Serenading Sarkozy. Flashing on the catwalk. Ooh la la... it’s Carla Bruni!
While living at the Élysée Palace in Paris with Nicolas Sarkozy, modelturned- singer Carla Bruni liked to play her freshly composed tunes to her husband, then President of France. One night, she was keen for his opinion on one song in particular: Mon Raymond, a thinly disguised love letter to Sarkozy in which she compares his vigour to that of a ‘bombe atomique’ (when the song was released, the French press explained, not without sarcasm, that ‘everyone knows Raymond is an acceptable nickname for Nicolas’.)
‘ I write at night, so most of the time I would go into the bedroom with the guitar and ask him for his opinion. “Hey, wake up! Listen to this!” And sometimes he’d be asleep! And this is the President! “I have to think about the economy, I don’t want to think about Raymond!” So after that I stopped waking him up. But I think he liked it.’
In the song, Bruni describes Raymond as ‘stunning... when he enters the room, good heavens, the air turns electric’.
She also croons: ‘Although he wears a tie, my Raymond is a pirate/ He storms aboard for his prize, as if staking his life for it.’
Are you sure the man dubbed Supersarko wasn’t embarrassed by all this emoting?
‘A question of is he tender enough?’
‘Men are not so used to being muses,’ she says. ‘I could understand [embarrassment] from someone who is completely private, like say a doctor or dentist – and all of a sudden his wife is a songwriter and she writes a song about him. “Oh my God, all my patients are gonna know!” But for someone as public as my husband, and with so many mean, stupid lies being written about him, I think Raymond is nice! I think it’s not a problem. After his political career, Raymond is like a feather passing by in the spring or summer!’
Bruni, one of the world’s most glamorous and beautiful women, and a former lover of both Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, met Sarkozy in late 2007 at a dinner party. She was a hugely successful former model and late-blooming pop star ( her debut album, 2002’s Quelqu’Un M’A Dit/Someone Told Me, sold two million copies). He was less than a year into his presidency and was in the process of divorcing his second wife, Cécilia Ciganer-Albéniz. Bruni was also single, having split from her boyfriend Raphaël Enthoven. The pair chatted intently that night, and were soon dating. They married in February 2008 and had a daughter, Giulia, in 2011.
Did Bruni fear losing her hard-fought independence when she first moved into the presidential palace? ‘It’s not a question of independence because I kept my independence. It was a question of, is he tender enough for me? I like tenderness. Life is brutal enough. But I saw his kindness and generosity like that,’ she says about Sarkozy, snapping her fingers. ‘And he’s open, never judging anybody. It’s funny because I wasn’t really into politics but I’m much more judgmental than he is. If someone betrays him he’s like [shrugs], “Oh you know, human beings do that.” ’
That said, Bruni admits that, as an artist, things were different for her by the time she released her third album in 2008. ‘My man was still President. But it didn’t really affect my music. It affected more the promotion – I couldn’t really tour because of the security reasons.’ But, she adds, ‘you know, five years goes fast’.
These days, her amour is out of office (he was defeated in 2012), but Bruni’s police security detail remains in place – Sarkozy is still a powerful figure on the French political scene, and rumours abound that he will again run for office.
Nonetheless, today Bruni, 46, is much freer to pursue her musical ambitions. She released her fourth album, Little French Songs, last year and has been touring the world with her band. She has also made three one-hour documenta- ries on BBC Radio 2, Postcards From Paris.
Meanwhile being on the road is giving Bruni a jolt of freedom and she is clearly loving the opportunity to promote the new album. She enters the posh Parisian hotel suite the picture of head-turning elegance – but is soon candidly and hilariously bemoaning her failing eyesight and grey roots. Tall and lean, supremely confident and sharp as a tack, Bruni is the ultimate yummy mummy, chic and glowing with beauty and brains.
It’s a combination that helped propel her to the very top of the modelling world. Her current low-key return to the limelight is in stark contrast to those wild days when as one of the
handful of supermodels – along with Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen and Claudia Schiffer – she dominated fashion in the Nineties.
To the young Carla, raised in privilege in Turin and then Paris (her father was a wealthy Italian industrialist who relocated the family to France after the left-wing terrorist group Red Brigade threatened to kidnap the seven-year old Bruni), modelling was her passport to freedom. After leaving school she studied art and architecture at the prestigious Sorbonne before dropping out to pursue modelling.
‘It was my dream when I was young to go to New York, to London, to every single continent,’ she says in the documentary. ‘So it was an easy way of travelling and independence, which were the two things I really craved when I was 18 years old… I mean, I was tall and thin enough, but apart from that I just wanted a job that took me away from home, because my generation all left home quite early. The new generation stay with their parents. But our generation were all gone at 18.
‘It’s the time of life when you’re free. When I look back at these years I only see the energy of youth and the fun of being young.’
Bruni became the face of campaigns for Armani, Versace, Galliano and many more besides, and a regular cover star on glamorous magazines all over the world. Inevitably, the young Bruni soon drew the attention of some high- prof i le admirers. In his 2007 autobiography, Eric Clapton wrote of falling for the then 21-year-old model: ‘Very sexy… a remarkable figure.’
They dated briefly at the beginning of the Nineties, but at a Rolling Stones party in New York, another ageing rocker made a move. Clapton spotted Mick Jagger’s interest in Bruni and begged the Stones frontman to steer clear: ‘Please, Mick, not this one. I think I’m in love.’ The pleading fell on deaf ears. Within days, Bruni and Jagger had begun a clandes- tine affair, a development that also didn’t go down well with Jerry Hall, with whom Jagger had four children.
Bruni and Jagger were lovers for seven or eight years. And speaking to Vanity Fair in 2008, Bruni said she and the rocker remained friends after the relationship ended.
‘I have a good relationship with all the boyfriends I had,’ she said. ‘Sometimes I’m the godmother of their children. I’m always good friends with their wives.’
Although not, she admitted, with Jerry Hall. ‘I never met her,’ she said. ‘And I was never
Clapton begged Jagger to steer clear
officially Mick’s girlfriend. I was never into his family and all that.’
Modelling made Bruni world-famous and turned her into a multi- millionaire. She appeared on some 250 magazine covers and designers couldn’t get enough of her. Reflecting today, she downplays the supermodel tag with typical good humour and modesty. ‘I happened to be a model in this time where all the models were so famous. It had nothing to do with quality, it had to do with the time. The media were interested in the models.’
She recalls one particularly memorable Vivienne Westwood fashion show, where she was due on the catwalk in a fake-fur coat and underneath it a fake-fur g-string. ‘It looked very like, how can I say… from afar you could think, “Oh my God, this is not a g-string!”
‘And so I asked Linda [Evangelista], “What would you do with this outfit if you were me?”’
Evangelista told her to walk halfway down the runway with the coat firmly closed – then put her hands on her hips and let the coat flap open. ‘So that’s what I did! And they all thought it was me!’ she says, meaning the assembled fashionistas thought the fake fur of the g-string was anything but. ‘And it was this enormous
Above: Carla Bruni with husband and former President Nicolas Sarkozy in New York, 2008