Humiliated by his first definitive criminal conviction and with opponents preparing to boot him out of parliament, a desperate Silvio Berlusconi has wheeled out family and friends for a spot of decent PR.
But even an airbrushed photo shoot in the latest edition of Italian Vanity Fair, the ageing playboy and his young fiancée, Francesca Pascale, has produced sneers and titters, with 27-year-old Ms Pascale revealing she first fancied the ex-premier when she was a young girl – and under age.
Berlusconi, who turns 77 on Sunday, was famously dismissed by his ex-wife Veronica Lario as a man “who consorts with minors”. He is currently appealing against a conviction for paying for sex with an under-age prostitute, so Italians might imagine that dwelling on the half-century age gap between the couple had been marked off limits by the PR people.
“I was under age when I decided that I would get him,” said former Naples shop assistant, Ms Pascale, in the magazine’s cover feature. “I immediately offered to leave him my phone number and asked him for his.”
Berlusconi replied: “Well, you are keen,” according to Ms Pascale.
Some commentators speculated that the mogul wanted to show how some older men are pursued by women young enough to be their grandchildren. To underline the point, Ms Pascale reveals how “women threw themselves at him”.
Ms Pascale, who was a teenage activist in Berlusconi’s Forza Italia political party, said she was not put off by her boyfriend’s much-publicised sex parties. She added, however: “It wasn’t easy for me. I never attended those dinner parties because I knew I would not have been able to keep quiet.” She said in the interview that she hoped to marry the disgraced former premier.
Ms Pascale doesn’t say exactly what it was that first attracted her to the billionaire tycoon. But Berlusconi told Vanity Fair: “She has brought me joy without asking for anything in return.”
Next month, Berlusconi is due to begin his year of house arrest or community service as a punishment for tax fraud.