A French paradox: multicultural celebrities are popular, but so is Le Pen

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Racist? The French? Hardly, if a popular annual poll of the most admired celebrities in France is to be believed.

The survey, published each New Year in the Journal du Dimanche, has produced a remarkable result: two of the top seven celebrities are black; two are Jewish; and two are of North African origin. Only one person in the top seven is ethnically French: the actor Jean Dujardin, whose silent movie The Artist has been a triumph worldwide.

Paradoxically, another poll shows that Marine Le Pen, the leader of the xenophobic National Front, now has the support of one in five French people ahead of the two rounds of presidential elections in April and May.

In the celebrity poll, conducted by IFOP, a sample of 1,018 French people was asked to select their ten most favoured names from a list of 56 film, TV and sports stars and politicians.

The tennis star-turned-singer Yannick Noah, of French Caribbean origin, topped the poll for the eighth year in succession. The retired footballer Zinedine Zidane, born in Marseilles of Algerian parents, came second.

Third place went to a newcomer to the poll, Omar Sy, the actor and comedian who stars in the most successful French movie of 2011, Les Intouchables. Sy was born in a poor western Paris suburb to Senegalese parents.

Fourth was Simone Veil, 84, the Auschwitz survivor, former health minister and former president of the European parliament. Fifth was another French Jew, the Moroccan-born comedian Gad Elmaleh. Sixth was Dujardin and seventh was the Franco-Morroccan actor Jamel Debbouze.

The highest-placed active politicians were the Socialist presidential challenger François Hollande (48th) and President Nicolas Sarkozy (49th). Another IFOP poll yesterday made Mr Hollande favourite to win the first round of the presidential poll with 27.5 per cent, followed by Mr Sarkozy on 24 per cent and Ms Le Pen on 20 per cent.

The sociologist Jean Viard said the results of the celebrity poll should be treated with caution but suggested that France was "far less racist than people sometimes assume".

Frédéric Dabi of IFOP said the result reminded him of the popularity of the "brown-white-black" French football team which won the World Cup in 2008. "But don't forget that four years later, Jean-Marie Le Pen [Marine's father] reached the second round of the presidential election," he added.