The Greek press has a word for her: harpy

Mimi Papandreou's 'love letter' to her late husband has done little to redeem her grasping reputation, writes Andrew Gumbel
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She may be reviled, derided and regularly humiliated in public, but Dimitra Papandreou knows how to get one thing right, and that is keeping herself in the limelight. Fifteen months after the death of her beloved Andreas, and nearly two years after her turbulent career as Greece's First Lady was brought to an abrupt end, Mimi is back - with a gushing memoir of life with her older man that has again made her the talk of Athens.

Ten Years and Fifty-Four Days recounts the turbulent - in her words "seismic" - relationship that catapulted her from the life of a lowly Olympic Airways hostess into the bed of the most powerful democratic leader modern Greece has ever known. Ostensibly, the book is an extended love-letter to her dearhusband, awash with sentiment and melodrama, particularly in the descriptions of the final illness that forced him to leave office soon before his death at the age of 77.

In reality, the book is above all a 579-page exercise in self-justification that has exposed Mrs Papandreou, now 42, to the old accusations of ruthless opportunism and vicious misrepresentation of those who sought to restrict her public role to more modest proportions than she would countenance.

She describes her husband's successor, Costas Simitis, as a worthless technocrat and a saboteur, and the popular former European commissioner, Vasso Papandreou (no relation) as "ungrateful". When it comes to her own role, she depicts herself as unstintingly loyal and bursting with ripe emotions. She describes herself at his deathbed as a tear on Andreas's cheek. "I hung from his lips!" she writes. "But no answer, silence!"

There are passages where the exclamation marks strew the pages like trees in a thick forest. "This book, written only with my heart, is the confession of a soul," she gushes.

The initital print-run of 30,000 has sold out in a matter of days. The political world, however, is less enthusiastic. "All this offers nothing to the memory of Andreas Papandreou," remarked the socialist leader's former spokesman, Telemachos Hytiris, whodefended Mimi when she ran her husband's prime ministerial office from 1993 until his resignation in January 1996. "It is an insult to our intelligence and good taste."

Mrs Papandreou's old nemesis, the tabloid newspaper Avriani, has marked the publication by reprinting its famous pictures of Mimi cavorting naked on a beach with another woman, and publishing inflammatory articles accusing her of shoplifting, among other things. The equally downmarket Adesmeftos Typos chose to reprint one of the book's many photographs of the Papandreou marital bed, with the caption: "This is where they f***ed Greece".

Such stunts may be low blows, but they reflect the soap-opera style that the Papandreous brought to Greek public life with their scandalous affair and subsequent marriage, and account for the almost insatiable desire for the Greek public either to gossip about Mimi or to denounce her as a vulgar harpy. The Papandreou children, offspring of Andreas's marriage to his American second wife Margaret, fall firmly in the second category and are locked in a bitter legal dispute over their father's will. They have tried unsuccessfully to cast doubt on its authenticity because it heavily favours Mimi and denounces the son-in-law believed to be most hostile to her as "a disgrace to the family". Now the battle has moved on to a wrangle over the old family home in Athens, on which a court decision is expected in a few days.

The publication of Mrs Papandreou's book will certainly pay her legal bills. But its saccharine tone and catty attitudes smack of the desperation of an ambitious woman who knows her public career is over bar the shouting. What will she do now? "She has not ruled out the possibility of writing another book," say her aides. Who knows what it will be about. But, as long as it keeps the gossip-mills turning, why should she care?