There is slightly more spring in the short step of Nicolas Sarkozy on the eve of Christmas. The latest episode in what is known in France as the “Sarko Show” has captivated the nation...
There is slightly more spring in the short step of Nicolas Sarkozy on the eve of Christmas. The latest episode in what is known in France as the “Sarko Show” has captivated the nation. It features a liaison with the Italian model turned singer Carla Bruni which has prompted even grudging nods and winks from his most bitter opponents. “I used to think he was a complete idiot,” says one opposition politician. “Now I am not so sure.”
Carla Bruni, who has spent most of her life in France has enjoyed a colourful love life, ranging from musicians, including Mick Jagger (while he was married to Jerry Hall) and Eric Clapton, to writers and philosophers – she ran off with Raphaël Enthoven while she was living with his father - to politicians.
Before she got together with Sarkozy, Carla Bruni had been stepping out with François Fillon, the French Prime Minister. This may not be the first time that a French president and prime minister have shared the affections of the same lady, but it is certainly the first time that the French public got to hear about it.
The days when French politicians could frolic in the Elysee Palace with whoever they chose and the public would never find out have long gone. François Mitterand was famously accosted by a young journalist who nervously said: “Monsieur President, I have heard a rumour that you have a mistress and a child by that mistress. Is it true?”
“Et alors?” Mitterand replied. “So what?”
To make themselves seem more interesting, politicians have constantly sucked up to musicians. Harold Wilson met the Beatles, Tony Blair entertained Oasis at 10 Downing Street and George W Bush has chatted to Bono on the White House lawn. However, getting a musician into the bedroom takes reaching out to the rock and pop generation to a whole new level.
Months before Carla exploded onto the scene, Sarkozy, with his love of all things American, had shattered a long-standing French taboo and brought his private life into the public arena. His opponent in the presidential election, Segolene Royal, was forced to follow suit. She proudly displayed her taut 50-year-old body in a bikini this summer, hoping to woo voters. The trick didn’t even impress the father of her four children, who was already spending his nights away from the family home in the company of a Paris Match journalist.
For a Catholic country, France is incredibly tolerant about who is sleeping with whom. The publicity around the Clinton-Lewinsky episode astounded them. “It’s no one else’s business,” said a friend of mine at the time, “and besides, a man is so much more reasonable if he’s having sex.” While Carla was unwelcome on Sarkozy’s recent visit to the Vatican – it appears the Pope only entertains visits from married couples - most French voters couldn’t care less who their president is sleeping with. However, they would prefer it to be someone beautiful and beguiling as Ms Bruni.
Carla has everything. She may be Italian born, but she is now considered Parisian. Her desire to pursue sexual conquests - even if it’s the son of the man she is living with – has left most Frenchwomen open-mouthed in admiration. She also has that secret ingredient they would love: Italian blood. When I was writing my book about French women I discovered that the one thing that scared them was Italian women. And with good reason, Jerry Hall might add.
The question most French people are now asking is how long will this liaison last? It’s been good for Carla’s career, pushing sales of her cds up the charts (she won the French equivalent of a Grammy for her first album Quelqu’un m’a dit). But she was quoted in Le Parisien, a daily newspaper which is about the closest thing the French have to a tabloid, as saying: “Love lasts for a long time, but passion only burns for two or three weeks.” As she and Sarko have been romantically linked for around a month, he might be facing the same life expectancy as a Christmas turkey. And while this affair has increased his popularity, his ratings might be affected if he is suddenly dumped.
Sarko has never lacked chutzpah. He shot to prominence some twenty years ago, when as mayor of Neuilly, he single-handedly confronted a man calling himself the Human Bomb who was holding a classroom of children hostage and had strapped explosives to his body. Some suggest this latest venture shows even more bravery.
For the moment, they are just enjoying watching the dalliance unfold, even if the more politically minded would prefer him to focus on the price of gas and the more cynical question exactly quite how Sarko and Carla see eye to eye.
“What I want to know,” says my hairdresser “is how Sarko and Carla appear the same height in all the photos? He must be standing on the pavement and making her walk in the gutter.”
How long before she steps out of the gutter and into bed with one of his rather attractive twenty-something sons is anyone’s guess.