Hit & Run: Viva Veronica!

For a woman who chose the stage as her career, and who showed no inhibitions about removing her clothes once she was on it, Veronica Lario has for the past 15 years given a magnificent impression of a shrinking violet.

She lives in a grand home in the north Milan suburb of Marechio, seven kilometres from her husband’s villa, and the occasional photos that have emerged show her and her three children living the sort of gracious life that Marie Antoinette must have enjoyed before everything went pear-shaped: frolicking in long skirts with goats and horses, listening solemnly while daughter Barbara tinkles on the white Steinway.

But the profound silence of “the Hermit of Marechio” (as she is sometimes known) gives her outbursts, when they come, vastly more weight than they would have if she was on the phone to favoured newspaper editors twice a week. Her two detonations of the past week – her late-night email to the Italian press agency ANSA protesting at her husband’s “going around with minors” and the announcement of her decision to sue for divorce – have shaken Berlusconi’s increasingly sublime self-confidence to its foundations. What, people speculate, if she told everything she knows? She could destroy the man. In a characteristic reaction, Berlusconi insisted that she had been led up the garden path by his political enemies.

Yet Veronica Lario, the nom d’art of Miriam Bartolini, is far too intelligent and independent-minded to let herself be exploited in such a way. Born to a middle-class family in Bologna 52 years ago, she showed early signs of independence when, aged eight, she refused to attend catechism classes. Her parents eventually backed down. Silvio was smitten by her topless appearance in a comedy at Milan’s Teatro Manzoni and went round to her dressing-room to tell her so.

But although he was already wealthy and had just bought the theatre where the play was being staged, she was no push-over. He wooed her lavishly before she surrendered. Established in Marechio, she has gone her own sweet way, banning the children from watching television, sending them to Rudolf Steiner schools, growing organic vegetables, and playing no part at all in her husband’s political career. She has allowed him to enjoy endless conquests and flirtations without public comment: this is the Italian way, and a deal which she seems to have accepted.

But silence is not the same as complicity, and when Berlusconi goes too far, publicly undermining, as she sees it, her dignity and stature, she is formidable. If he knows his wife at all, he must be bitterly sure that, having now decided on a divorce, she is never going to back down. Peter Popham



What is the Abba Economic Index?

Just when you thought you couldn’t face another financial acronym, along comes the AEI. But this mysterious index is not a measure of assets, nor the fluctuation of the euro. It’s the Abba Economic Index. Thanks to new research, those wanting to monitor the state of the economy need look no further than the charting position of the Swedish songsters: Abba’s inane smiles and relentlessly upbeat songs are the perfect antidote to the gloom of a financial crisis. Here’s the evidence.

In 1974 they were topping the charts following the Eurovision triumph of Waterloo – just at a time when the stock market took record falls, a three-day week began and taxes were rocketing. In 1992 Britain said thank you for the music yet again, as sterling plummeted and thousands went out to buy the greatest hits album, Abba Gold. Last year, as the bankers at Lehmans heaved their cardboard boxes, the country rekindled its love for the Swedey-boppers, with the runaway success of the Abba-filled, yet staggeringly bad, film Mamma Mia.

Coincidence? Not according to the Communications Agency (TCA) which conducted the research into recession spending habits and uncovered the connection. “In difficult times everybody needs an escape,” says Adam Leigh, TCA chief executive. “People need an antidote.” So next time you catch a glimpse of satin flares and flaxen hair, button down your wallet – another finanical storm is coming. Emily Dugan



Crimestoppers: The new way to beat the credit crunch

Did you see Raymond Daniels, wanted for conspiracy to commit murder, browsing knives in your local hardware store? Or how about Thomas Cochran, a notorious Scottish drug dealer – did you spot him looking shifty in a bus queue? If you did, you’re in luck. The latest recession-busting money spinner is telephoning the police with tip-offs about crimes, or the whereabouts of criminals, in exchange for cash. Those reporting criminals to Crime-stoppers have claimed a total of £35,000 in rewards over the past year – double the average annual total.

“Last year, we ran some excellent campaigns, achieved a higher profile and received many more calls on serious crime,” says the charity’s chief executive Mick Laurie. “We would expect all these to result in the payment of more rewards.” The sharp-eyed can earn £10,000 for tip-offs leading to a conviction for a serious crime or £1,000 for minor offences. No wonder Crimestoppers get 600 calls a day. Among the recent anonymous callers was a woman who shopped her husband for stealing two heavy good vehicles (she’d also found out he was having an affair).

A man was rewarded for spotting someone at the wheel of a car with two broken arms and a leg in a splint. Another caller “saw” Osama bin Laden leaving a supermarket. You can’t blame the punter for trying: the FBI is offering $25m for bin Laden’s head. For lesser, but still substantial, rewards, simply pick a street corner, and keep your eyes peeled. Rob Sharp

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