Naughty or nice?

Will the real Carla Bruni please step for­ward? Two bi­ogra­phies paint con­trast­ing pic­tures.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - BOOKS - by ANNe-eLiS­A­beTH MOUTeT

IT says much about Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, her com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with her hus­band, French pres­i­dent Ni­cholas Sarkozy, the French po­lit­i­cal world at large, and her per­sonal sense of self that of two bi­ogra­phies pub­lished two weeks ago the one that she co-op­er­ated on painted the less flat­ter­ing por­trait.

Ac­cord­ing to Carla et les Am­bitieux (Carla And The Am­bi­tious Ones), a gos­sipy but well-doc­u­mented tome by two jour­nal­ists who pro­duced best-sell­ing bi­ogra­phies of Cecilia Sarkozy (Ni­cholas’s sec­ond wife who he di­vorced in 2007 be­fore meet­ing Bruni) and Rachida Dati (for­mer French Jus­tice Min­is­ter), France’s First Lady reg­u­larly over­rules her hus­band’s chief for­eign pol­icy ad­viser, an ex­pe­ri­enced diplo­mat whom she tried to have fired.

Bruni also ob­tained po­lice and se­cret ser­vice files to trace the source of ru­mours on her and her hus­band’s al­leged in­fi­deli­ties; dis­closed an em­bar­rass­ing pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion with Michelle Obama in which the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent’s wife al­legedly con­fessed to hat­ing life in the White House; and be­lieved her­self the vic­tim of a con­spir­acy that in­volved Dati, among oth­ers, to spread slan­der about her pri­vate life.

She also, the book says, re­or­gan­ises her hus­band’s sched­ule at the last minute, no mat­ter what the con­se­quences are for other peo­ple, if she be­lieves he is be­ing over­bur­dened. And that’s the good news. Bruni sat for sev­eral lengthy in­ter­views with the au­thors, Michael Dar­mon and Yves Derai. By con­trast, she not only re­fused to grant ac­cess to Besma La­houri, who wrote the sec­ond bi­og­ra­phy, Carla, Une Vie Se­crete (Carla, A Se­cret Life), she also dis­cour­aged aides and friends from hav­ing any­thing to do with the author. Yet many of La­houri’s “in­sights” paint a pic­ture of an in­tel­li­gent woman whose suc­cess in her cho­sen pro­fes­sions – mod­el­ling and sing­ing – was achieved by de­ter­mi­na­tion and hard work.

We learn from for­mer col­leagues, pho­tog­ra­phers, fashion editors and agents that from the age of 16, when the Italy­born Bruni started on the cat­walks, she was un­fail­ingly punc­tual, po­lite and con­sid­er­ate.

She never threw a strop or com­plained about wait­ing (“so un­like Naomi Camp­bell”, says a for­mer edi­tor of Elle); she never stopped tak­ing sing­ing lessons, re­quest­ing blunt crit­i­cism from the com­posers with whom she worked; and humbly pe­ti­tioned to work with those whom she ad­mired, yet who seemed un­aware of her ex­is­tence, from Chris­tian Lacroix, the cou­turier, to Jean-Jac­ques Gold­man, the mu­si­cian. In gen­eral, it ap­pears that she could have taught Tony Fer­nan­des a thing or two about hard-earned suc­cess.

La­houri says Bruni went af­ter the men in her life, whether mu­si­cians Eric Clap­ton and Mick Jag­ger or Sarkozy, with the same in­tel­li­gent de­ter­mi­na­tion. It is the stuff of self-im­prov­ing Cos­mopoli­tan and Marie-Claire fea­tures: all that is missing from the story of how she in­serted her­self into Clap­ton’s life, then hopped into the arms (and bed) of Jag­ger are a few bul­let points and a pop quiz.

“You have a ticket to a con­cert by a top mu­si­cian whose best friend is the rock star you’ve wor­shipped since you were 12. Do you a) stay in your as­signed seat; b) work your way across the mosh pit to the front row, hop­ing to be no­ticed; c) score an in­vi­ta­tion to visit back­stage; or d) ditch the first mu­si­cian for the even big­ger rock star as soon as pos­si­ble? Give your­self a pat on the back if you’ve an­swered b, c and d.”

Yet Bruni still man­ages to re­main good friends with all her ex-boyfriends. La­houri de­scribes hol­i­days in the Bruni fam­ily’s Riviera house, where Sarkozy jogs with one of his wife’s for­mer lovers, cy­cles with an­other and plays cards with a third.

Then there is the al­le­ga­tions of plas­tic surgery. None of that is new, mind you: af­ter Bruni, at a chic house party in Mar­rakesh 10 years ago, “stole” Raphael En­thoven, a glam­orous philoso­pher, from un­der the nose of his young wife, Jus­tine Levy, the wronged woman re­tal­i­ated by writ­ing a trans­par­ent ro­man a clef (a novel in which ac­tual per­sons and events are dis­guised as fic­tional char­ac­ters). A char­ac­ter ob­vi­ously mod­elled on Bruni was de­scribed as “sewn up and Bo­toxed to com­plete fa­cial rigor”.

Bruni de­nies ever go­ing un­der the knife, but La­houri spoke to early em­ploy­ers and col­leagues who had a dif­fer­ent story, some­times with telling snap­shots.

Carla et les Am­bitieux pur­ports to be a far more po­lit­i­cal book. No doubt Bruni went out of her way to help the writ­ers be­cause of their hatchet jobs on Dati and Sarkozy’s pre­vi­ous wife.

Her friends also spoke to the au­thors, so there can be lit­tle doubt of the ac­cu­racy of the anec­dotes.

In the French me­dia, most politi­cians and celebri­ties get to read their in­ter­views be­fore publica- The two new bi­ogra­phies on France’s First Lady paint dif­fer­ing pic­tures of her. tion, so it is pos­si­ble that Bruni also saw ex­cerpts of the man­u­script be­fore the book went to press. That she (and, pre­sum­ably, her hus­band) ap­par­ently never imag­ined the re­sult might back­fire says a lot about the pe­cu­liar deaf­ness that de­vel­ops af­ter a cou­ple of years in power. Be­lat­edly, the El­y­see Palace de­nied re­cently that she “au­tho­rised” the book.

In Carla et les Am­bitieux, Bruni comes across as a shal­low in­tel­lec­tual who has never failed to take a woolly stand com­forted by the ap­proval of the chat­ter­ing classes. An un­think­ing Left-winger all her life, (“I’m not sure about Se­go­lene Royal – So­cial­ist Party pres­i­den­tial can­di­date – but I’d vote for her be­cause my fam­ily have al­ways voted on the Left,” she mem­o­rably said dur­ing the 2007 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign, be­fore Sarkozy had ap­peared on her per­sonal hori­zon), she has pushed her hus­band into a cou­ple of po­lit­i­cal mis­takes.

One was nam­ing Fred­eric Mit­ter­rand, the nephew of the for­mer pres­i­dent, as min­is­ter of cul­ture. A clever man, Mit­ter­rand would have been a good bi­par­ti­san choice – ex­cept he ad­mit­ted in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, which Bruni read and gave to her hus­band to read, to a taste for gay sex­ual tourism in Thai­land.

When the in­evitable po­lit­i­cal fra­cas en­sued, Bruni lob­bied for Mit­ter­rand to keep his job, which he did – some­thing for which Sarkozy’s core vot­ers never for­gave him.

Sim­i­larly, in her ea­ger­ness to score points over Cecilia Sarkozy, Bruni made a point of be­com­ing friends with her hus­band’s first wife, MarieDo­minique Culi­oli, with whom he had his two elder sons. This played a part when Sarkozy pushed his 23-year-old son Jean, a law stu­dent, as can­di­date to lead the devel­op­ment coun­cil for La De­fense busi­ness district west of Paris, the largest and most em­blem­atic in France.

His move was seen as bla­tant nepo­tism, but the pres­i­dent re­fused to back down. Fi­nally, Jean Sarkozy with­drew, mak­ing an el­e­gant pub­lic state­ment that jus­ti­fied some of his fa­ther’s con­fi­dence in him. But by then the pres­i­dent had been sig­nif­i­cantly harmed.

Many in France still think Bruni is a good in­flu­ence on Sarkozy. A poll two weeks ago found that 54% of vot­ers liked her, and 71% be­lieved she helped France’s im­age abroad. Most did not think she had any po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence on her hus­band.

But her lat­est spin ef­fort may well change this per­cep­tion. The au­tho­rised bi­og­ra­phy re­veals that Bruni has an ap­petite for po­lit­i­cal med­dling – so will its pub­li­ca­tion trig­ger a sud­den re­vul­sion, if not a revo­lu­tion, against France’s Carla-An­toinette? – © The Daily Tele­graph UK 2010

Carla Bruni seems to have a well­hid­den taste for pol­i­tics, ac­cord­ing to one of the two new bi­ogra­phies on her. – File pho­tos

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