Bruni quits contest over song insulting Sarkozy

Broadcaster says French first lady objected to lyrics in San Remo festival entry

Carla Bruni's surprise withdrawal from Italy's San Remo music contest has been blamed on a song in the competition that mocks her husband, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Appropriately for an event that inspired the notoriously political Eurovision Song Contest, the news has caused tongues to wag, set one European nation against another, and possibly laid the groundwork for a minor diplomatic incident.

Ms Bruni's decision to withdraw from the festival, which will run from 16 to 21 February, was revealed by the TV presenter Massimo Giletti on the state channel Rai Uno, which broadcasts the event each year.

"Carla Bruni has decided not to participate in the Festival of San Remo, where she was to have sung with Gino Paoli on the Thursday evening.

"Among the explanations is the possibility that her appearance was vetoed by the Elysée Palace in annoyance at the song that mocks President Sarkozy," he confided to millions of viewers of Sunday's Arena programme.

He later told journalists that he had seen evidence for the claim in the form of an email from Ms Bruni's staff. "Of course I wouldn't invent such a thing in order to say it on television," he said.

Italian papers were yesterday in little doubt about the reason for the Italian chanteuse and former supermodel's change of heart, blaming the lyrics of "Meno male," a song written and sung by Simone Cristicchi, which suggests that the glamorous Ms Bruni is effective in distracting attention from her husband's political problems.

It was also noted that the lyrics contain an unmistakable reference to the well-known political chant of supporters of the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, "Meno male che Silvio c'e'!" (thank goodness for Silvio).

Controversy over song lyrics is an annual occurrence at San Remo. Last year the row was over the song "Luca used to be gay" by Giuseppe Povia, a slice of cod psychology that described a man who thought he was gay but later realised that he was straight.

Described by one critic as "Freud for idiots", the song, which related how an overbearing mother had left the protagonist sexually confused, nonetheless caused enough controversy to win a television audience of 14 million. Pundits were saying yesterday that the controversy surrounding "Meno male" has given the song a following wind which could help it to win.

San Remo has for decades been Italy's most popular song festival, and stars like Dusty Springfield used to turn up in search of inspiration. It directly inspired the Eurovision event, but its huge TV ratings have been sliding in recent years.

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