Silvio Berlusconi's romance with 28-year-old member of his fan club reportedly hits trouble

Speculation that the former premier was ready to settle down and adopt a less prominent role in public life following a series of humiliations seem wide of the mark

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Friends and supporters of Silvio Berlusconi, who were hoping that the former Italian premier’s 28-year old girlfriend would make an honest man of him, have been disappointed to learn that the disgraced 78-year-old playboy is free and single once more.

The tycoon’s professional and private lives are rarely out of the headlines. But the romance between Mr Berlusconi and Francesca Pascale had led some to speculate that he was ready to settle down and adopt a less prominent role in public life following a series of humiliations at the hands of the press and the courts.

Since the summer, however, rumours had suggested that all was not well between the media mogul and Ms Pascale, a former shop assistant and member of the Berlusconi fan club. Several reports even said that their relationship was on the skids; there were noted absences and reported tiffs. Ms Pascale appeared more wedded to the idea that the pair were engaged than did her boyfriend.

“She won’t be first lady of Arcore,” said the Turin-based daily newspaper La Stampa, after it emerged that the couple spent Christmas apart, with Mr Berlusconi at his principal home, Villa San Martino in Arcore. Ms Pascale, meanwhile, was settling into her a new apartment in Madrid, where she hopes to study languages.

In an interview last year with the Italian edition of Vanity Fair, the billionaire mogul, alongside Ms Pascale, expressed his gratitude for her support and affection during a period when he was publicly humiliated by the “bunga bunga” sex-party scandal, gained his first criminal conviction (for tax fraud) and was banned from parliament.

Ms Pascale said, in the same interview, that her boyfriend had only to “name the date”. But it now appears that day will never come. The mogul’s third-oldest child, Barbara Berlusconi, noted that it was “unlikely” that her father would ever marry again.

Back in July, at Ms Berlusconi’s 30th birthday party, her mother Veronica Lario, who was Mr Berlusconi’s second wife, from 1990 to 2010, asked the mogul if he was getting married again. He was said to have replied: “I’m still smarting from the last one.” Or, rather, the bruising divorce that will ensure he pays Ms Lario a nine-figure sum.

Mr Berlusconi might be single again but he is not free from problems. In the run-up to Christmas it was reported that membership of his Forza Italia party had collapsed from 400,000 to 60,000. His legal travails continue as he faces charges of inducing a pimp to commit perjury and of bribing a senator to swap sides in parliament, which he denies.