Call me Jackie... OK Carla - but does that make Sarko the new JFK?

It's enough to go to a girl's head. John Lichfield reports on Mme Bruni-Sarkozy's very revealing 'Vanity Fair' interview
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Carla B says that she would like to be considered as the new Jackie K. France's first lady, who is still Italian and not yet French, says in an interview this week that her principal role model is an American, Jackie Kennedy.

Carla also says that she would never allow herself to be photographed ladling out soup for her husband at the Elysée Palace, as France's first post-war First Lady, Yvonne de Gaulle, was.

Instead, for an exclusive photo shoot by Annie Leibovitz forVanity Fair magazine, which hits the stands on 1 August, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy climbs onto the roof of the Elysée Palace in a stunning, blood-red, strapless dress. She is portrayed, beautiful as ever, her hair trailing in the Paris breeze, the Eiffel Tower in the distance, sauntering sexily down the stepped roof of the palace as if she were on the catwalk, or the stage at a pop concert. Tante (Aunt) Yvonne de Gaulle, it is fair to assume, rarely climbed onto the roof of the Elysée Palace. It is doubtful too that she ever wore a blood-red, strapless dress.

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy continues to take French public life into startlingly new territory – some might say alarmingly new. Her third folk-pop album, now in its third week at the top of the French charts, contains explicit references to sex and drugs of a kind which would have been banned in France two decades ago. This summer, the words of "Tu es ma came" (You are my dope) can be heard on every beach and in every camping site and traffic jam in France – sung by the President's wife.

Most people don't seem to mind very much though. Carla's opinion ratings are floating in the mid to high 60s. Has she become her husband's greatest political weapon, as the profile-interview in Vanity Fair claims? Hardly. Or at least not yet.

President Sarkozy remains stubbornly unpopular. The morale of French households slumped last month to its lowest level in more than two decades. The people of France, who were suspicious at first, have come to admire Carla Bruni-Sarkozy – her beauty, her cheek, her self-assurance, her good manners. None of that seems to have helped her husband very much. His popularity rating remains mired in the 30s or low 40s.

There are even whispers – nothing more substantial – that the President is growing tired of Carlamania. He is not a man who likes to share the limelight.

John F Kennedy famously said on his first visit to France as US President that he was simply the "man who came to Paris with Jackie Kennedy". Will Nicolas Sarkozy – the man who became President among such high hopes and contradictory messages 14 months ago – come mostly to be remembered as the man who occupied the Elysée Palace with Carla Bruni?

In an interview for a long article in Vanity Fair – part of an avalanche of Carlamania in print and film about to strike an eager globe this summer – Carla Bruni-Sarkozy says she is still uncertain of how to perform as First Lady. She is considering a charitable, or human rights activity, but has been remarkably inactive in those areas so far.

In the meantime, she says, yes, she would like to see herself as part of a new Kennedyesque dream couple, symbolising youth and energy and change. "She (Jackie) was so young and modern, and of course unconsciously I would project myself more like Jackie Kennedy than, for instance, Mme de Gaulle, who would be much more like the classical French woman behind her husband," she said. "There is a great photograph of Mme de Gaulle serving soup to her husband. I do serve soup to my husband sometimes, but I wouldn't get photographed that way."

There are few other great political insights, save, perhaps, the revelation that President Sarkozy was delighted, rather than dismayed, when old nude photos of his new wife appeared on the internet – and in the Daily Mail. To pre-empt her husband's anger, she says she showed him some of the images and said: "You must know this is going to come out." She claims he replied: "Oh, I like this one! Can I have a print?"

President Sarkozy married Carla Bruni in February, four months after divorcing his second wife. So much has happened since then that it is useful to stop and recall just how odd the situation is. The right-wing President is married to a left-wing pop singer, and he wants to restore Catholicism to the heart of French life, while Carla Bruni, the former girlfriend of Mick Jagger, sings of sex and drugs.

Carla Bruni was pretty well

known before she met Nicolas Sarkozy. She was an Italian aristocrat turned-model who had converted herself into a pop singer with some success. She was, however, just one of many beautiful B-list celebs. Carlamania began – or exploded – when she brought her new husband on a state visit to London in March. Put beauty, royalty and power together in the age of celebrity – and vrooooom!

Mme Bruni-Sarkozy tells Vanity Fair's Maureen Orth, disingenuously, that she was "surprised" by the media furore surrounding their love affair. She insists that she fell in love with President Sarkozy at first sight (for the first time in her life) at a dinner party in November. She rejects suggestions that she is a life-long adventuress who was looking for a new adventure.

The relationship still baffles many of President Sarkozy's friends and allies. At the final cabinet meeting before the summer break this week, Carla breezed in and handed each minister a signed copy of her album. Some are said to have been touched. Others were outraged at the lack of decorum. "It was as if they were being given a going-home present at the end of term," one parliamentarian from M. Sarkozy's centre-right party said yesterday.

In other recent interviews, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy has said that her husband is a misunderstood revolutionary, a man with "six brains" who "does not at all resemble" the dull, bourgeois, conservatives who belong to his party. She also says that she herself remains a "gut left-winger" who disapproves, for instance, of her husband's tough policies on immigration.

It is hard to imagine Jackie Kennedy taking issue with JFK's politics. In many ways, the comparison – though invited by Carla Bruni – is a false one. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is a much more assured operator than Jackie Kennedy. France's First Lady is someone who has lived in the media glare all her life and knows which way to turn to best advantage, in both photographs and interviews.

Many of President Sarkozy's conservative supporters have been won over by her poise, intelligence and beauty. Others remain wary of her. The sight of her in a red dress on the Elysée roof will not calm their anxieties.

Perhaps the best clue to Carla Bruni-Sarkozy's character may be found in the lyrics of "Deranger les pierres" (overturning the stones), a pleasant song on her otherwise dull album. "I want to overturn the stones," she sings. "I want to caress the unknown."

The first ladies' club, just a few decades apart

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy

Née: Carla Bruni Tedeschi

Aka: Carla Bruni

Born: Turin, Italy, 23 December 1967

Height: 5' 9"

Designers: Dior, Armani

Nude moment: Photograph taken in 1993 was auctioned for £45,000 last April after a state visit by the Sarkozys to London

Married: Nicolas Sarkozy

Children: One son

She says: "I'm monogamous occasionally, but I prefer polygamy and polyandry. Love lasts a long time, but burning desire, two to three weeks"

They say: "Please Mick, not this one. I think I'm in love." Eric Clapton on seeing the reaction when Mick Jagger met the then 21-year-old model Bruni

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Née: Jacqueline Bouvier

Aka: Jackie O

Born: New York, 28 July 1929

Height: 5' 7"

Designers: Cassini, Halston

Nude moment: Snapped while sunbathing nude in 1975. Hustler magazine's five-page pictorial sold more than three million copies

Married: John F Kennedy, Aristotle Onassis

Children: One daughter, one son

She said: "There are two kinds of women, those who want power in the world and those who want power in bed."

They said: "I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris – and I have enjoyed it." President John F Kennedy, 1961