France isn’t a betting country, but when Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni decided to get married in 2008, after a two-month courtship, many people were already starting to guess the likely divorce date.
These two, the siren supermodel and the twice-married “President BlingBling” – a nickname given to him by the press due to his fondness for Rolex watches, gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses and hobnobbing with moguls – were publicity hounds, the perceived wisdom went. She loved power, he loved young women. It would never last.
“She’ll drop him if he loses in 2012,” a politician friend told me knowingly (Republican Sarkozy ending up losing the presidential election to his Socialist opponent François Hollande denying him a second term in office).
“His roving eye will find someone else the minute she’s off to have Botox,” a Republican party grandee smugly predicted at a dinner party.
Thirteen years, one presidency and two election defeats (in 2012, and in the 2017 Republican primaries) later, and Bruni and Sarkozy are still married and, by all accounts, closer than ever. This is despite them facing the ultimate relationship test: a string of legal challenges brought about, Sarkozy claims, by “activist judges”, all of which he has strongly denied.
None of the investigations, of which there have been half a dozen, have ever come to anything – that is, until earlier this year when the former president’s luck ran out and he was finally convicted of trying to bribe a judge in 2014, two years after he left power.
News of the scandal dominated headlines in France and around the world. According to the prosecution, who wiretapped his and his lawyer’s cellphones for months, Sarkozy had suggested to the judge that he could secure a prestigious job for him in return for information about a separate case. In March, he was sentenced to three years in prison, two of them suspended. He is the first French expresident to appear in court on criminal charges.
Almost immediately after his conviction, Sarkozy appeared on an evening television news show and gave a forceful defence through clenched teeth. Like a cornered bull, he told the nation he was appealing against this “miscarriage of justice”. He couldn’t believe that months long wiretaps, without a proper warrant, were admissible in law. Turns out that the job he allegedly promised was never given to the incriminated judge.
He was, of course, appealing, he said, but before he’d even lodged the legal paperwork, his wife took to Instagram: “What senseless persecution my love @nicolassarkozy . . . the fight continues, the truth will come out, #injustice,” she posted, with a garland of French flag emojis and a little broken heart.
SARKOZY – who remains free during the appeals process – and Bruni escaped lock down in Paris, spending it with her mother and sister at Château Faraghi, her family’s 10bedroom, 1930s villa at Cap Nègre on the Riviera.
“It’s a big house, but I’m no longer used to living 24/7 with my mother and sister!” Bruni recently joked on a French TV chat show.
“The kids [the couple’s daughter Giulia (9) and Aurélien Enthoven (20), Bruni’s son by French philosopher Raphaël Enthoven], were running about all the time. Even when we’re not arguing, my mother, my sister and I talk incessantly – loudly because we’re Italians.
“I was composing, my mother [pianist Marisa Borini (91)] was playing the piano; it was noisy and messy, but my husband never batted an eyelid. When he wasn’t writing his next book or cycling in the mountains, he just sat among us, reading L’Équipe [France’s daily sports paper]. He was totally zen with it all.”
ZEN isn’t a word you’d ordinarily use of the hyperactive, sometimes brutal Sarkozy. A successful minister of the interior [home affairs], a position he held twice, he ran his party, then Cabinet, like a military operation – brooking no interference and firing underperforming ministers without qualms. His hair trigger temper often plunged his communications team into despair.
Visiting the annual Paris Agricultural Show in 2008 (an essential walkabout in a country where the farming lobby is strong) he shot back to a visitor who’d thrown a casual insult at him, “Get lost, you moron!” in full view of a brace of TV cameras.
But from the beginning of their relationship, when Sarkozy was with Bruni he was a different man. Back in 2008, two weeks before their marriage, the model turnedsinger – who’d had a string of famous boyfriends, including Eric Clapton, former prime minister Laurent Fabius and Mick Jagger – sat the French president in front of her computer.
“Look at these pictures on the internet,” she said, googling portraits of her in the nude by famous photographers from Helmut Newton to Jeanloup Sieff. “You realise that’s going to come out, yes?”
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