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Meet the most elegant woman in Paris (sorry Carla, but it's not you)

No longer the epitome of French chic, the first lady opens up about counselling

It is turning into a poor week for the French first family. First, Nicolas Sarkozy was accused of nepotism for failing to curb the political ambitions of his 23-year-old son, Jean. Now the first lady has admitted that she has been seeing a psychiatrist for at least eight years. And even worse, a Sarkozy-supporting newspaper has conducted a poll to find the most chic woman in Paris – and Carla came fifth.

The winner – who represents the "ultimate chic, urban classiness, and unflappable elegance" of the Parisian woman – is another former model, Inès de la Fressange, 52. She scooped 29.5 per cent of the votes in a poll conducted by Figaroscope, Le Figaro's entertainment supplement. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy scored only 8.6 per cent.

The French first lady, 41, is unlikely to share her feelings on the subject with the public but she does at least have an outlet.

In a television programme to be shown next month, she reveals that she has been seeing psychiatrists on and off since the death of her father. Although the advance publicity for the programme says that she has been seeing a psychiatrist for eight years, her father died 13 years ago.

For a former model and active pop singer to see a psychiatrist, or to be precise, a psychoanalyst, is not that unusual. But Ms Bruni-Sarkozy, interviewed for France 3 by a French celebrity shrink, Gérard Miller, says that she was "immune" to the call of the psychiatrist's couch until her father died when she was 28. She then became hooked on psychoanalysis "body and soul".

Her first analyst, she says, was awful. "There was, perhaps on both sides, a kind of indifference, a wave of boredom." Her present analyst – whom she has been seeing for two years – is quite different, she says. "My first session with him was incandescent. You could say it really made my heart beat. It was like a meeting of two minds."

Part of the problem with her first analyst, she says in the programme, was that he insisted that she had to lie on a couch. "I don't like to talk when I am lying down. It strikes me as artificial. It's like being in a charade. For the last two years, I have been talking to my analyst face to face. I find that more civilised. I can talk more freely."

Ms Bruni-Sarkozy's poor performance in the Le Figaro contest to find "La Parisienne 2009" implies that her hold on the French public is fading. In truth, the spell which she has cast since she became first lady 20 months ago, has always been more powerful outside France than within it.

Figaroscope asked its internet readers to choose between 10 women whom it said represented the "ideal" of Parisian womanhood. The winner, the supplement said, must be "urban, curious, rebellious, contradictory, elegant, loving and cultivated.".

The 10 women nominated included Ms Bruni-Sarkozy, the actress Chiara Mastroianni (the daughter of Catherine Deneuve) and the actress and comedian, Valérie Lemercier.

Other nominees on the list were the actresses Syvie Tesud and Sandrine Kimberlain and the singer Arielle Dombasle, the wife of the celebrity philosopher, Bernard-Henri Levy.

The overwhelming winner was Ms de la Fressange, 52, who was once the face of Chanel. She secured 29.48 per cent of the vote. Le Figaro said of her: "She bubbles like a glass of champagne on the terrace of the Brasserie Flore... she even finds the time to pose in the nude for Madame Figaro magazine".

Ms Bruni-Sarkozy has posed nude often enough; perhaps she needs to bubble harder.