The Sunday Telegraph

Bullied ‘Fatty’ turns into the swan of Italian neo-fascism with eyes for the country’s top job

- By Nick Squires in Rome

Abandoned by her father and bullied by other children for being chubby, Giorgia Meloni did not have a rosy upbringing in a scruffy working-class district of Rome.

Thirty years on, she is having the last laugh. The leader of the hard-Right Brothers of Italy could, conceivabl­y, become Italy’s first ever woman prime minister, which would have been unthinkabl­e just a few years ago.

Brothers of Italy, the modern-day heir to Italy’s fascist movement, was then a fringe party commanding less than 4 per cent of the national vote. A recent Ipsos MORI poll found it is now Italy’s second most popular party, behind the centre-Left Democrats.

Ms Meloni, 44, has edged ahead of her main rival on the Right, Matteo Salvini, 48, the leader of the antiimmigr­ant League party.

There is widespread speculatio­n that Mario Draghi, the current prime minister, could resign and then become president, replacing the incumbent Sergio Mattarella, who will retire in February.

That could trigger an election which would most likely be won by an alliance of parties on the Right, including Brothers of Italy, the League and Silvio Berlusconi’s much-reduced Forza Italia party.

Mr Salvini has said publicly that if Ms Meloni takes just one more vote than him, then she should become prime minister.

“I’m getting ready to govern the nation,” Ms Meloni said in an interview. “I’m ready to do whatever the Italian people ask me to do.”

The mother-of-one has come a long way from her childhood in Garbatella. Her father’s abandonmen­t of her, her sister and her mother – he sailed away on a yacht and wound up in the Canary Islands – was deeply traumatic.

Plied with biscuits and cakes by her adoring grandmothe­r, by the age of nine Giorgia weighed 65kg.

She was called “Cicciona” – “Fatty” – by the other kids and bullied. At the age of 15, she joined the Movimento Sociale Italiano, the post-war successor to Benito Mussolini’s fascist movement. She signed up at her nearest branch in Garbatella.

“That’s the place where it all started”, she writes in her bestsellin­g autobiogra­phy I Am Giorgia.

The branch was closed this week, its façade covered in tatty posters and the red, white and green of the Italian flag.

Francesco Novelli, 22, had little good to say about Ms Meloni.

“She may not be a fascist but she’s definitely an extremist,” the barista said in Bar Mattarello. “Personally, I don’t like either her or Salvini, even if many Italians do support them.”

Garbatella may be Ms Meloni’s home, but it displays a strong Leftwing streak. A nearby social centre is decorated with murals of Bobby Sands, the IRA hunger striker, Fidel

Castro and Che Guevara. “This is a working-class area and we lean more towards the Left,” said Martina Bianchi, in the Rusty Dagger tattoo parlour.

At the age of 31, Ms Meloni became the youngest minister in Italian history, serving in a government led by Silvio Berlusconi.

She founded Brothers of Italy in 2012. It attracted just 3.5 per cent of the vote in European elections in 2014 and 4 per cent in a 2018 general election. But her policies, including a naval blockade of the North African coast to stop migrants and incentives for couples to have more children, have seen its popularity surge.

Ms Meloni also opposes any further political union with the EU, which she says has “tragically failed”.

Francesco Galietti, of the political risk consultanc­y Policy Sonar, said: “She is not a neo-fascist and she will ruthlessly eliminate anyone around her who conveys that impression. She wants a clean slate. She’s on a good trajectory and could make it to the very pinnacle of power.”

 ??  ?? Giorgia Meloni is the main beneficiar­y of the shrinking support for Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party
Giorgia Meloni is the main beneficiar­y of the shrinking support for Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party

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