Viv Groskop: Carla, Luydmila and the woes of First Ladies


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The Independent Online

Carla Bruni is a woman of many talents. Singer, actress, rock star arm candy, First Lady of France. It looks, though, as if she might be about to go down in history for another reason entirely: serving up France's first Socialist presidency in a generation.

Of course, we can't entirely blame her for the fact that Nicolas Sarkozy is the most unpopular president ever to run for re-election in France. But as François Hollande – whose people market him as "Monsieur Normal" – surged a percentage point ahead in the first round of elections, it is now suggested that having a beautiful celebrity wife might have been far more of hindrance than a help for Sarkozy.

The French used to love to pretend that they look down upon the tittle-tattle of the press in other countries all the while ignoring the fact that Paris Match sells 620,000 copies a week (more than Hello! magazine). Bruni has put paid to all that. The French call her "Carla" and track her every change of heel height. But a celeb mag following doesn't mean people actually like you. Sometimes it's because they love to hate you.

With Carla as consort, complete with Vanity Fair shoots on the roof of the Elysée Palace, Sarkozy is seen as the man responsible for making the expression "bling-bling" mainstream in France. Which has made it pretty easy for his rival to rack up a series of vote-winning anti-rich proposals, the most popular of which is a 75% tax on incomes more than 1 million euros.

Bruni is a symptom rather than a cause. But if you want to be seen as a man of the people, shacking up with a famous supermodel with both a different nationality and a personal fortune of €18m (nine times Sarkozy's own) after an 80-day whirlwind romance... Well, it's probably quite good for the self-esteem of a man in his late fifties. And, boy, has Sarkozy looked smug for the past four years. But it's not great for PR in an economic crisis.

It's not too late, though. Sarko might want to take a tip from Vladimir Putin before May 6's final run-off. Putin's wife, Lyudmila is rarely seen in public. So much so that the latest claim is that she is in exile in a monastery outside Pskov, near Russia's border with Estonia. A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church said: "It is the right of anybody to spend time at one in contemplative prayer." Any room for an ex-model tired of the Parisian rat race? Get thee to the nunnery, Carla.

Your choice or Mrs Beckham's?

Thrilling news from the world of motoring! Victoria Beckham has designed a Range Rover. Or, rather, she has picked out her favourite leather finish and installed it in 200 limited-edition cars on sale at a showroom near you. If you have £80,000, that is.

Once upon a time this was known as customising your interior. Which is surely one of the reasons people pay ridiculous sums of money to buy upmarket cars. Why would you want Victoria Beckham's choice when you could have your own?

And why – other than for money, of which she already has plenty – would Victoria sully her newly-gained, spotless reputation in the fashion industry with a commission more worthy of Boycie in Only Fools and Horses?

But what do I know? I distinguish cars by colour and floor content. I currently drive a metallic beige one full of empty crisp packets. One for next season, Range Rover?