The life and loves of Carla Bruni

Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and Donald Trump were bewitched by the model-turned-singer. And now it seems the French president has fallen under her spell. John Lichfield reports

You know you are getting old when the President of France is going out with Mick Jagger's ex-girlfriend. Carla Bruni, 39, the supermodel-turned-pop-singer and lover of, among others, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and Donald Trump, is the new woman in the life of Nicolas Sarkozy.

For once, the world's media do not have to pussyfoot around the French law which prohibits invasion into people's private lives. The happy couple went to Disneyland Paris together at the weekend and posed radiantly for the paparazzi photographers who followed them to the theme park. If you want to hide your love away, you don't go to Disneyland on the weekend before Christmas. Among the "people" magazines which will publish the photographs this week is Paris Match, owned by M. Sarkozy's friend Arnaud Lagardre. In other words, this is an official, prince-meets-princess fairy tale, even if the Elyse Palace refused to comment yesterday.

Since he and his wife, Ccilia, divorced in October, M. Sarkozy has been linked by internet and tabloid gossip to a string of beautiful women in the worlds of media or showbusiness. Most of those stories appeared to have been exaggerated but this one is different. The 52-year-old President is said to have met the Italian-born, French-raised Mme Bruni at a semi-political gathering three weeks ago. They were seen together in the grounds of the Palais de Versailles the weekend before last. On Saturday, like scores of other divorcees, they took their respective children to Disneyland. According to the news agency Agence France Presse, the couple and the children spent the night at the Disneyland Hotel, 10 miles east of Paris.

Christophe Barbier, editor of the respected news magazine L'Express, is a friend of Mme Bruni. He said yesterday that he telephoned the former model before breaking the news of her romance with M. Sarkozy. "She confirmed the relationship," he said. "She said publicity did not bother her because this was now going to be a public love affair."

Colombe Pringle, the editor of Point de Vue magazine, which will publish photographs of the couple today, said: "Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni wanted people to know. Otherwise, I don't know why they would have gone to Disneyland to look at the Mickey Mouse parade."

Mme Bruni has long been listed among the world's most beautiful women. With what she once called her "kitty eyes" and her high, wide cheekbones, she bears a startling resemblance to... Ccilia Sarkozy. Like the woman who decided, after five months, that she did not want to be the Premire Dame of France, Mme Bruni is also celebrated for her emotional hand-brake turns. She had an on-off affair with Mick Jagger in her 20s and became famous as part of the first generation of supermodels, which also included Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. She abandoned modelling in her early 30s to re-invent herself with some success as an international pop star. Along the way, she dated an unlikely crowd of rich and famous men, including the US billionaire Donald Trump, film star Kevin Costner and British rock musician Eric Clapton.

Seven years ago, while living with the French publisher, Jean-Paul Enthoven, she fell in love with his son, the philosopher Raphael Enthoven, who was 10 years her junior. They married after he divorced his wife, Justine Lvy, the daughter of a better known French philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lvy. Mme Lvy took her revenge in 2004 by writing a successful novel loosely based on the stealing of her husband, called Nothing Important.

Mme Bruni did not appear to care. She had a success of her own to celebrate. Her first album of songs, Someone Told Me, appeared in the same year to cackles of amusement from the French music press. Too insubstantial, they said. Too folk. Too old-fashioned. But the disc gained a word-of-mouth following and became a cult hit with more than two million sales in Europe. One British critic hailed it as "deliciously languorous".

Mme Bruni's second record, featuring her musical arrangements of the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Dorothy Parker, W H Auden and W B Yeats, appeared earlier this year. She attributes her love of English poetry to the "lessons" from her friend and "professor", the English singer Marianne Faithfull.

In an interview with The Independent in May, Mme Bruni was at pains to point out that she never fitted the public prejudice that supermodels are thick as well as thin. "Even when I was having my hair and make-up done backstage at a fashion show, I would sneak in a copy of Dostoevsky and read it inside a copy of Elle or Vogue," she said. "But it would be pretentious of me to say I was more intelligent than the other supermodels of that era. I was always just curious about everything." She also revealed that, as a child, she took part in "sing-a-longs" at her parents' home with family friends such as Maria Callas and Herbert von Karajan. As a young woman, however, her musical hero was Joe Strummer of The Clash.

Mme Bruni is a daughter of one of the wealthiest industrial families of northern Italy, the Bruni Tedeschis. Her sister, Valeria, is an actress and film director. Their grandfather founded Ceat, which became the second-most important Italian rubber company after Pirelli. Her mother, Marysa Borini, was a celebrated concert pianist. Her father, Alberto, sold the family business in the 1970s and moved to France to escape the wave of murders and kidnappings of politicians and industrialists by the Red Brigades terrorist group.

"Music was the most sentimental thing in my parents' lives," Mme Bruni said in another Independent interview in 2004. "Although I was rather indifferent to technique, I definitely absorbed their tremendous passion for it. My mother always said that she could love a man who wasn't handsome or physically strong, but that she could not love a man who didn't love music. I agree!"

Nicolas Sarkozy is known to be a great fan of the perpetual French rocker, Johnny Hallyday. Otherwise, music does not appear to feature greatly in his busy schedule. Explaining her choice of men, Mme Bruni once said: "Desire is not very precise in my case, so I never choose. The one thing all the men I've loved have in common is a strong feminine side. I find feminine men very virile and macho men very fragile. Machismo is a defence mechanism." Oddly enough, one of Ccilia Sarkozy's implied criticisms of her former husband is that he was too driven and lacked a feminine side to his character.

Mme Bruni's friendship with the centre-right President is unlikely in several other respects. She has previously been regarded as leftish in her politics and, before she met him, publicly criticised M. Sarkozy's attempts to crack down on illegal and family immigration to France and select "useful" migrants.

From the President's point of view, such a glitzy relationship has advantages and disadvantages. Mme Bruni's previous romances do not suggest she will be willing, any more than Ccilia was, to play the role of calm helpmate to his own highly-charged personality. After all the gossip surrounding the demise of his marriage, it might seem that the last partner President Sarkozy needed would be an entertainment celebrity with a string of past high-profile conquests.

On the other hand, President Sarkozy's opinion poll ratings are starting to melt. The collapse of his marriage tarnished his all-conquering reputation, especially among French men. A mediagenic love affair with one of the world's most beautiful women might seem to be not such a bad idea. The centre-right newspaper, Le Figaro, a loyal promoter of all the President's activities, published a rather beautiful front-page photograph of Mme Bruni yesterday and proudly announced her as the "President's girlfriend". The centre-left newspaper Libration said, more grumpily, that the President had evidently foresworn his previous promise to keep public and private lives separate, and had deliberately chosen to live a "paparazzi idyll".

It remains to be seen how long the idyll will last and whether Carla Bruni finds life with the perpetual motion President as interesting as life with the Rolling Stones. As Mick Jagger's girlfriend, she would sometimes tour with the band in the early 1990s.

"It was fun and emotional," she once told the Italian magazine, XL. "I learnt from all of them, or rather absorbed things. They are special people, these creative types, but they conquered me with the simplicity and discipline with which they work. If I had not learnt anything from them, I would have been no better than a groupie."

But will Mme Bruni remain France's First Girlfriend? Or will she become France's first, foreign-born First Lady? On the whole, that seems unlikely. Much will depend on how much M. Sarkozy listens to his mother. In an interview two weeks ago, Andre Sarkozy, 80, said: "In his position, he is spoiled for choice. But I hope no one will think of marriage. I've had enough of brides."

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