Benito Mussolini and Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's two most charismatic leaders of the past century, have more in common than we thought.
Both emerged as dynamic leaders when Italian democracy was tying itself in knots. Both enjoyed vast popularity almost amounting to fan-worship, which endured for years and appeared immune to scandal. Both were short and sturdy, of classic peasant physique.
And both, it emerges, had gargantuan sexual appetites.
Exactly how gargantuan became clear this week with the publication of a memoir by Patrizia D'Addario, the prostitute who claims to have spent two nights with Berlusconi last year, and of the intimate diaries of Clara Petacci, Mussolini's most enduring mistress. The diaries of Petacci, shot dead with the ex-dictator as they were fleeing to Switzerland at the end of the war, have been published following the expiry of a 70-year secrecy rule on state documents.
Both Mussolini and Berlusconi, it emerges, demanded sex in industrial quantities. Even for Patrizia D'Addario, with years of experience as an escort behind her, the number of women Il Cavaliere (Berlusconi's Italian nickname) liked to have on tap was a shock. "The prime minister needs cuddles," she writes in Gradisca, Presidente (Take your pleasure, prime minister). "Having been an escort, I thought I'd seen a fair few things, but I'd never seen 20 women for one man ... Normally in an orgy you have roughly the same number of men and women, otherwise people get upset. But here the other men had no say. There was just one man with the right to copulate, and that was the prime minister."
Mussolini was in the same league. He told his jealous lover Clara – complaining bitterly about him returning to an old flame – that the idea of sleeping with only one woman was "inconceivable". "There was a period in which I had 14 women and I'd take three or four every evening, one after the other ... that gives you an idea of my sexuality." Nicholas Farrell, author of a biography of Il Duce, has calculated that Mussolini enjoyed at least 5,000 women during his life. "Mussolini's butler revealed that he was screwing women all the time," Farrell said yesterday, "even behind Clara Petacci's back."
Like Mussolini, Berlusconi clearly has incredible stamina. Despite his age (74) and a brush with prostate cancer, he was inexhaustible, D'Addario reports – though he failed to satisfy her.
Describing the night they spent together in his villa in Rome she recalls: "After the first assault, in which he achieved complete satisfaction, we started all over again ... He never even appeared slightly tired ... I'd never seen such passion for sex with a woman ... I was honest when he asked me if I'd enjoyed myself. It didn't seem right to lie. He obviously took this as challenge and began again ... Then more sex ... He goes down on my intimate parts and stays there for a long time, such that I thought that he might be sleeping. But no, of course not. He starts up again with more energy than before." He didn't let up until eight in the morning.
The only striking difference between the two men's sexual behaviour is aftercare. Despite her grudges – Berlusconi's alleged failure to do what he promised and help her sort out a property problem, which is why, D'Addario claims, she made their fling public – she admits that the prime minister was the perfect gent in the morning. "Coffee or tea?" he enquired. He raised the possibility of another meeting – "Next time we'll need other women," he decided. And as a parting gift he gave her "a tortoise, covered in precious stones. I had to admit it was lovely."
Mussolini by contrast was far more brusque. According to Petacci's diaries, his trysts occurred anywhere the fancy took him, on the carpet or against a wall, and ended abruptly, without "coffee, liqueur, or even a piece of cake."
What is it about Italy that causes it to produce potentates like this – when elsewhere sexual athleticism is more likely (think of John Profumo or Alan Clarke) to leave a politician on the sidelines or, as nearly happened to Bill Clinton over Monica Lewinsky, to bring a meteoric career crashing to earth?
"Sex is used as an expression of power," James Walston, professor of Italian politics at the American University in Rome said. "It's been a constant since the beginning of humanity, as well as in the animal kingdom." The only reason it is "more explicit and more acceptable" in Italy, he argues, is that it has taken the Italian media a long time to catch up with their colleagues in northern Europe and the US.
"Lloyd George and Kennedy both had many lovers but people in London and the US didn't know what they were getting up to at the time ... Until April 2009 as far as the public was concerned, Italian politicians didn't have lovers: it wasn't an issue until Veronica Lario made an issue of it when she sued for divorce. Until then there was a general agreement in the media that this was out of bounds. Some politicians had lovers, some were gay but nobody heard about it."
And when Lario hurled her thunderbolts, she aimed them carefully, he said. "If she had complained about Patrizia D'Addario, probably no-one would have paid much attention. The reason it became an issue was because she complained about Berlusconi 'frequenting minors' and putting up bimbos as election candidates." And once the dam was broached, media inhibitions vanished pretty fast. Two-and-a-half years ago there was little fuss when an adviser to the then Prime Minister Romano Prodi was caught cruising prostitutes in Rome, and he hung on to his job. But last month when a leading centre-left politician was found to have had affairs with trans-gender prostitutes, he was forced to resign amid a media firestorm.
But Nicholas Farrell, Mussolini's biographer believes there is nothing universal about the wild promiscuity of Mussolini and Berlusconi. Rather it is a reflection of the sexually rapacious culture from which they both emerged.
"Italian men are like this," he said. " If you look at Italian TV it illustrates clearly what men like, and Italian women are prepared to play ball with it – the half-naked girls dancing on the desk in the equivalent of Have I Got News For You, for example. Imagine what Ian Hislop and Paul Merton would say about that. You can't blame Berlusconi for this – it's what the audience wants."
"Both Mussolini and Berlusconi are charismatic leaders," he went on, "both are very popular. You have to talk about the Italian people – what is it about them that they throw up such individuals – why do they get such popular support? The fact is that they like a strong, charismatic leader."
And there is a parallel, he maintained, between sexual charisma and political performance. "Mussolini and Berlusconi achieved far more than, say, Giulio Andreotti or Romano Prodi. And there is a connection between the lacklustre sex lives of those men and their lack of effectiveness in office."
Mussolini... and the mistress
"I hold him tightly. I kiss him and we make love with such fury that his screams seem like those of a wounded beast ... We made love with such force that he bit my shoulder so hard his teeth left a mark." Clara Petacci on Mussolini
"Your flesh has got me – from now on I'm a slave to your flesh ... I have a feverish desire for your delicious little body which I want to kiss all over. And you must adore my body, your giant..." Mussolini to Petacci
Berlusconi... and the escort
"He invited me to dance, a passionate dance. He pulled me towards himself and kissed me on the lips and caressed me. He held me tighter and said, don't go."
"He started to kiss me passionately, on the lips, my neck, my breasts...he covered me with the duvet... He wanted me to know straightaway that he was the man and I was the woman. He entered me and suffocated me with kisses..."
Patrizia D'Addario on BerlusconiReuse content