Berlusconi records an album of his love songs to captivate Italy

Silvio Berlusconi's court minstrel, a car-park attendant-turned-guitarist Mariano Apicella, unveiled the first fruit of their collaboration last night: a record album.

While Mr Berlusconi was meeting Tony Blair in Downing Street to discuss Iraq, the EU constitution and other matters of state, his musical partner was getting ready for the launch in Milan of their CD entitled Meglio 'na Canzone or "Better a Song".

The 14 songs were composed by the Italian Prime Minister and Mr Apicella, the latter providing the music and Mr Berlusconi the words. Typically Neapolitan, they tell of broken hearts, hopeless dreams of love, loneliness and jealousy.

Tony Blair, Mr Berlusconi's host yesterday, strums an electric guitar, Bill Clinton plays the saxophone and Edward Heath used to wave a baton. But Mr Berlusconi may be the first national leader to launch a recording career while still going full throttle in politics. Actually, he once crooned for a living on cruise ships. He also makes himself look a dilettante, warbling syrupy love songs while Italy's economy goes down the plughole.

Yet none of it does him harm. With two election wins under his belt, Mr Berlusconi can justly claim to know more about keeping Italians happy than any man alive.

He can stand in his shirtsleeves in the garden of his villa, as shown on one of his television channels, shoulder to shoulder with the former car-park attendant, warbling his heart out, and all Italy nods and smiles. Che simpatico! To call it the common touch is an understatement.

Mr Berlusconi's effortless identification with the Italian Mr Average - identifying with his tastes, personifying his dreams - is what gives him his power.

His accompanist and partner, a struggling musician when Mr Berlusconi heard him in Naples a couple of years ago, is in no doubt about his good fortune. "The tram comes by only once," he said. "If you miss it, arrivederci and thank you."

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