Silvio Berlusconi announces he is becoming a vegetarian due to his concern for animal welfare

Reports claim cooks at his opulent villa have been told that ragu sauce for his pasta must now be made by following a vegetarian recipe

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s disgraced former prime minister, has surprised even his closest friends by announcing he is becoming a vegetarian.

The 79-year-old billionaire, who is best known for his gaffes and seemingly insatiable appetite for the company of younger women, has now declared that his concern for animal welfare means that meat is off the menu.

Previously, the convicted tax evader and Bunga Bunga party host was partial to a bit of chicken for dinner during his periodic attempts to lose weight, when he felt obliged to ditch his favourite pizza.

But the TV mogul has now told colleagues in his Forza Italia party: “Animals are marvellous creatures. How can we kill them? How can we eat them?”

He has told cooks at his opulent Villa San Martino mansion in Arcore – the scene of his infamous sex parties – that ragu sauce for his pasta would, from now on, have to be made by following a vegetarian recipe, according to Corriere della Sera newspaper.

“We need to do something about ragu,” he said, adding that his cooks should “avoid making it with meat”.

The three-time prime minister also surprised political associates earlier this month by declaring that “the defence of animals and the environment are fundamental principles of the party”, during a speech to endorse Forza Italia candidate Stefano Parisi’s campaign to become mayor of Milan.

The first hint of Berlusconi’s interest in animal rights came in 2014, when he tried in vain to revive the fortunes of his ailing political party with a pledge, ahead of European elections, of new cash to sponsor homes for stray cats and dogs.

Some observers, however, think his concern for animals was inspired by Michela Brambilla, one of a quartet of pretty, if scantily qualified young women, who were given cabinet jobs in 2010 after his third and final election victory. 

The other three were Mariastella Gelmini, Stefania Prestigiacomo and last but not least, former topless model Mara Carfagna, who was a shoo-in for equal opportunities minister.

Despite boasting impeccably right-wing credentials, Ms Brambilla was a vociferous animal rights activist and campaigned for an end to Siena’s Palio horse race during her stint as tourism minister.

Italian commentators were swift to note that becoming a vegetarian would put Berlusconi in the company of Leonardo da Vinci, Tolstoy and Gandhi, enhancing his own conviction that he should be regarded as one of Europe’s elder statesmen. Other wags asked whether he would adopt feminism or abstinence next.

News of Berlusconi’s apparent conversion to the charms of a herbivorous diet, did not, however, convince the mogul’s personal medic and health guru Alberto Zangrillo, a consultant at Milan’s San Raffaele hospital.

Dr Zangrillo said the diet that he had helped devise for the conservative politician did include meat. “And he usually follows my directions to the letter,” he said. 

A survey conducted this year by Eurispes suggested that eight per cent of Italians have adopted the vegetarian lifestyle, only a few points less than currently support his fading Forza Italia party. Last year the same survey found vegetarians in Italy accounted for 5.7 per cent of the population, suggesting that their numbers are rapidly growing – and that if he is serious about ditching meat, Berlusconi is not alone.

Italian finance: Banks could ‘pop’

Italy’s faltering banking system could “pop like a cork” at any moment, Nicolas Sarkozy warned Silvio Berlusconi in 2009, according to leaked US spy agency reports.

The warning from the then-President of France, as Europe’s financial crisis gathered pace, was among information gathered by the US National Security Agency as it eavesdropped on the Italian Prime Minister and his close political allies amid fears that Italy’s economy would lead to a wider collapse, according to documents newly released by the WikiLeaks website.

Valentino Valentini, Mr Berlusconi’s go-between with Russian President Vladimir Putin, was also targeted. As was national security adviser Bruno Archi, a witness in the “bunga bunga” sex and corruption trial. Other documents, published in L’Espresso, reveal US concern over Mr Berlusconi’s relationship with Mr Putin.