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