The Sarkozy story: the President, his ex-wife and their lovers

A new book puts Cécilia Sarkozy's side of the collapse of her marriage to France's head of state. John Lichfield introduces the first extracts to be published in Britain
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The Independent Online

The private lives of French presidents used to be a matter for secrecy, speculation and gossip. The private life of President Nicolas Sarkozy has become a daily public soap opera.

The President was described last week, by the woman who lived with him for 18 years, as a "sauteur" (a vulgar word for philanderer). She also described him as "stingy".

Earlier, the right-wing President had confirmed that he plans to marry Carla Bruni, a left-wing pop singer, whom he met two months ago: a woman who boasts that she does not believe in monogamy. Yet last week it was also claimed that, since meeting Ms Bruni, he had been nursing an affection for the actress Eva Green.

All of this in a country that has been taught to believe, or at least to say, that the private lives of politicians should remain private. All of this after a presidential campaign in which M Sarkozy appealed stridently for a return to "traditional" values.

Cécilia Sarkozy, 50, made the attacks on her husband to a friend, who she knew was writing a book about her. Later she changed her mind, and tried to block publication of the book. On Friday, a French court agreed to allow publication. Extracts are published here in English for the first time.

The book was written by Anna Bitton, a respected political journalist for 'Le Point' magazine. Her book is based on conversations with the former First Lady before, and since, the Sarkozys divorced on 15 October. The words attributed to her by Bitton suggest a woman in some turmoil, not long after a painful divorce and longing for a happy resolution with the man she regards now as the love of her life.

The book is a partly sympathetic, partly critical portrait of Mme Sarkozy. She is presented as a heroine in a French classical tragedy, torn between her duty and her passionate love for another man. Bitton's writing style, certainly, does what it can to bring out the story's Mills & Boon flavour.

On Nicolas

"I no longer love him. When I look at him today, I can't believe that I ever did." She falls silent. She trembles She knows that she is making a judgement on 20 years of her life...

On this November morning, one month to the day after her divorce, she is furious with him. "He is not behaving well." There have been miserable – and very banal – arguments about money. "Nicolas is stingy..."

But that's not her only gripe against him. "Nicolas is a sauteur," she says (roughly, a "shagger"). "That's what everybody tells me now, a sauteur." She spits out the two poisoned syllables, as if to conjure away her own distress.

When she left him two years ago, that was not the reason. She swears, hand on heart, her eyebrows raised in astonishment, that no one ever handed her an incriminating dossier on her husband. Not even Villepin (the former prime minister and Sarkozy's centre-right rival, Dominique de Villepin, whom, said reports at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy had suspected as having informed his wife of his affairs)? No, not even Villepin, she swears. "I left because I fell madly in love with another man, as simple as that. (This was Richard Attias, a French public relations executive, for whom Mme Sarkozy left her husband for eight months in 2005.) ... For 18 years, no one told me about (her husband's affairs) because they didn't want to hurt me." From one statement to another, from one moment to another, she oscillates between pained recognition – "There are bimbos he shags without even remembering their first name" – and disturbing naivety: "I don't know if it's true. After all, he's never been caught out... Everybody tells me it's true but I can't believe it. I can't believe it."

Cécilia will always guard, deep in her heart, the wounds of these apparent indiscretions of her former husband. The first time she left him it was for another man (without knowing about his infidelity). The second time, she made the decision for herself.

She took strength from, by then, knowing about the affairs. "It helped me to leave Nicolas... How can you respect yourself if you accept the unacceptable? I could never have accepted, like Danielle Mitterrand (wife of the late president) a child that he had with another woman...

"... During my whole life with Nicolas, in 18 years with him, he never once ate at home with us. I ate with the children. He ate while working... He would never have made it to the top if he hadn't been like that. He sees nothing wrong in it...

"... Nicolas is a politician. He's not the same species as you and me. He hasn't got the same codes or morals. That's how he got to be where he is... He is a man who loves no one. Not even his children."

For a time, she forgave him for never thinking about her. It did not displease her to sacrifice her life to his great political destiny – something that would never have been possible without her.

Still today, she feels responsible for him. She does not like what he has become. "He is not dignified," she says, referring, pell-mell, to girls and the "karaoke parties until four in the morning". She is outraged. For 20 years she made sure that he went to bed early. She still worries about him like a child, even if he is head of state. "Nicolas does not come over like a President of the Republic. He has a real behaviour problem. Someone needs to tell him. I did it for 18 years and I cannot do it any longer. I am the last person who can do it."

On the split

The Sarkozys' problems are said to begin when the future president left his job as Interior Minister in 2004 and became president of the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire.

She felt so unhappy in the UMP, lost in this misogynist world. "In this party, there are only homos and machos and homos," she said. "I am sick of homos and machos. Sick. Why don't we have any intelligent chicks in the UMP? You know, some Ségolènes?" (A reference to Ségolène Royal, her husband's future Socialist rival in the 2007 presidential race.)

In February 2005 she wanted to write a satirical novel, anonymously obviously, on the life and mores of political parties in France. "Ségolène Royal, who is my pal, will tell me how things are on her side," she said. The book was never written. She felt that she did not have the right to do so. That was the problem with being "the wife of...".

On money

"... Nicolas is stingy. He is generous while you are with him. If you leave, it is all over."

To obtain a quick divorce, she says she accepted an astonishingly miserable alimony. "I had to use my wits. He didn't want a divorce. I told my lawyer we would negotiate the details later."

It is difficult to believe her when she reveals the figure. So small compared to a presidential salary!... "How can I pay the rent with that? Even if I re-negotiate, what am I going to get? €1,000 or €2,000 more! I can't live on that! Children are expensive, very expensive!... Nicolas is not going to let his son (Louis, aged 10) live under the bridges of Paris after all...

"Is it true that a photo of me with Richard would be worth €500,000? Because if that is true, I am happy to share the money with the paparazzi."

On the man she loves

It is the most beautiful possible declaration of love. In truth, she does not want her divorce to be interpreted in any other way. She hastened it, premeditated it, scripted it for this purpose alone: to convince Richard Attias of her love for him... One month, to the day, after her divorce (ie in mid-November), she still insists that she has not seen "Richard".

"He is terrorised," she explains to her friends. He is scared of her. "His family, his friends say bad things about me. Very bad things."

"He was humiliated. That's what he always tells me. That I humiliated him. And for a Moroccan Jew like him.

"I made him suffer so much. Several times. He came back to our house near New York and my things were no longer there. He was traumatised. I did him a great deal of harm. In his work, above all... I did not, quite frankly, behave very elegantly.

"You are two people, he says. I realise that this divorce is the most beautiful declaration of love that you could make to me. But there is another Cécilia. I have seen her. I am scared of her.

"When you love a man sincerely and he loves you sincerely, even if, in theory, it can't work, even if there all kinds of difficulties, you have to live that love. I thought life was more complicated than that. I tied myself in knots. I made a mistake (in leaving Attias to return to Sarkozy in December 2005). I paid the price."

She has still to convince Richard. She still hopes that he will listen to her. This is her overriding desire, her obsession: to give him proof of her love. "Richard is the man that I have most loved in my life. I don't think that I really loved anyone before him... He is the man of my life. I am the woman of his life."

On the future

Paris wits have recalled with delight the famous prediction of General Charles de Gaulle on Jackie Kennedy ("She will end up with an oil billionaire"), but the novelist and critic Philippe Sollers predicts otherwise. "She will end up in a convent," he says. She believes in destiny: that her destiny will reunite her with Richard... "I have premonitions," she said. "I can't help it. It's a gift, but it poisons my life."

Where now? That fundamental question makes her quiver. She has given birth to three beautiful children, saved six lives (the Bulgarian and Palestinian medics freed from a Libyan jail by Cécilia Sarkozy last July). She has helped a man to become President of the Republic. And afterwards? Now? Is there a life after these lives? She does not claim to have the answer.

That is what makes Cécilia so strong and so unusual. She is prepared to risk being scared, very scared. She is capable, at 50 years old, of letting herself be carried away... She has to invent a new life for herself; the life of a woman who is no longer dependent on anyone. "Everything is possible", to steal her ex-husband's campaign slogan. As long as she does not turn back...

Further reading: Extracts from 'Cécilia' by Anna Bitton published by Flammarion, €16.