The vote for Europe: Vote Lollobrigida, your celebrity Euro candidate

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The Independent Online
AS TONINO the fishmonger notices the curvy figure in a red dress strolling up the steps of his Rome market, his jaw drops. He stops hacking swordfish steaks and yells: "Gina Lollobrigida! What are you doing here? Let me look at you" grabbing her hand and planting a kiss on the film star's powdered white cheek.

It could be a scene from a Fifties comedy but this is the 1999 European election campaign. At 71, Gina Lollobrigida is on the hustings in her role as candidate for Italy centre-south in the European elections. La Lollo is doing what she does best; being admired. At three years of age she was voted "most beautiful infant in Italy" and has never looked back.

"People have great affection for me. We just have to make them understand that I am running for election," she says, as she poses behind a mountain of strawberries.

Gina Lollobrigida's face has changed little. Same dark eyes, arched brows, porcelain complexion, implausibly long lashes, cherry lips and big hair. Her only concessions to the passing years are long sleeves and a slightly less plunging neckline. High heels and big gold baubles are de rigueur.

"I've seen all your films Gina. You're wonderful," says a tiny toothless women close to tears. "You don't remember me but my husband sold you a car," adds another shopper.

But why would a diva like Gina decide to take to the political stage? "For the past decade I have been doing charity work with Unicef, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Medecins sans Frontieres and many other organisations. It's natural that I carry on with that but in a role that has more authority.I will work for women, children and the elderly in particular."

None of the pensioners or young mothers wanting to touch her would dream of quizzing her on her political views and that suits Gina fine. She deftly deflects any political questions and graciously repeats vague Euro-proposals. "I don't need to do this," she says with an elegant shrug of her padded shoulders. "I'm here because I believe in what I am doing. I ended up in the cinema by chance. Politics is a choice. If I were an opportunist I would have chosen the strongest party, but the Democratici are a small new force."

For the Euro-elections, Italians vote under a proportional representation system. No less than 22 political organisations are standing and in a bid to capture voters, they're seeking high profile celebrity candidates. These include renowned mountaineer Reinhold Messner, footballer Paolo Rossi, and opera and film director Franco Zeffirelli.

The Democratici, a reformist movement formed by Romano Prodi before he became President of the European Commission, has chosen as its symbol a donkey. It's a happy coincidence that one of the most lasting celluloid images of la Lollo is as a voluptuous young woman astride a donkey in the classic film Pane, Amore e Fantasia.

After pressing flesh for a solid hour in the market, they've run out of election cards and still people are offering compliments and slips of paper for autographs. Despite the steamy weather, there's not a bead of sweat on Gina's powdered forehead but her high-heeled feet are suffering.

Without fuss, she plumps herself neatly down on the steps of the market, horrifying onlookers who rush off in search of a chair. "I don't need a seat," she jokes, "there's one waiting for me in Brussels. Or is that Strasbourg?"