John Lichfield's Paris Notebook: Carla's 'sales' hit by sound of silence

Is Carlamania dying? In France at least? In Britain, no doubt, Carlamania is doomed to have a half-life of a million years. A statistical row is raging in France over the true popularity of the First Lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Her third pop album, launched in July, has sold either 85,000 copies to French music-lovers or 175,000 copies, depending on how you count the sales.

The album is a) a flop or b) a golden disc.

Either way, the "record" – a word banned by my children but still used by the Juke Box Jury generation, including me – should have done better. Has any other disc had such an avalanche of free publicity? The album, which will be promoted live by Carla Bruni on Jool Holland's BBC2 show tomorrow night, is called Comme si de rien n'était (As if nothing had happened). Most of its tracks are forgettable but one song, "L'Amoureuse" (The Woman in Love), is pleasant enough and has been played constantly on French radio this summer.

All the same, retail sales of the album in France have struggled to reach 85,000, according to the official industry figures. Carla's first album in 2002 sold two million.

Her production company, Naïve, says the official industry figures are misleading. Retail sales statistics are based, not on actual sales, but on market research, which is often inaccurate. In other words, people often lie about the music that they buy. The more reliable figure, Naïve says, is the wholesale supply of Carla's album to French shops – 175,000, enough to make it a "disque d'or".

In other words, people are buying Carla's album but dare not admit it, to their friends or to pollsters.

Real pulling power

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy appeared on France's favourite Sunday afternoon chat-show last week.

An estimated three million viewers tuned in. When Bernadette Chirac appeared on the same television show in February last year, she had an audience of 6,500,000.

Lesson: Bernadette Chirac should make an album, or even a record.

Praise him, please

We received a round-robin email from one of our more Catholic friends during the week. The Pope was about to arrive in France. The television channel, France 2, had organised a Papal popularity poll on its website. His Holiness was running at only 29 per cent. All good Catholics, must vote, serially, for the Pope.

By the time that Pope Benedict arrived, quel miracle, his popularity was in the low sixties. Who said that France was no longer a Catholic country?

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