/ 28 March 2008

Justice at last for Mrs Sarko thanks to Carlamania

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday applauded the acres of admiring British media coverage of his wife during the first day of the state visit, saying he felt justice had been done after a week of ”wretched” press in Britain and in France. Some British papers had printed a 15-year-old photograph of Carla Bruni naked in her days as a supermodel.

But Thursday’s coverage of Bruni-Sarkozy’s demeanour and style as ”the new lady Diana”, and the front page photos of Bruni alone, cutting out Sarkozy himself, had made French officials marvel at what they now called Britain’s ”Carlamania”. At the press conference following the Franco-British summit, a veteran French political reporter asked if Sarkozy, who prizes being the centre of attention, didn’t feel alarmed to be overshadowed by his wife.

Sarkozy first ranted at the reporter for writing a piece mocking his English, then criticised his ”very insensitive experience of marriage”.

But despite having resolved to be more reserved about his private life, Sarkozy could not resist delivering a lengthy, adoring tribute to his wife as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown stood beside him on the podium.

”I was very moved by the welcome she got. I thought it was well deserved. There had been so many things … I am happy to see that justice has been done.

”She has honoured our country, not just for her outward appearance, but because beyond her looks she is a woman with convictions, sensitivity and humanity. That’s what makes her elegance,” he added.

Sarkozy suffered in the polls because of the deliberate public display of his whirlwind courtship of Bruni, but his private life soap opera continued in France on Thursday as celebrity magazines ran photos of his ex-wife Cecilia’s wedding to the man she left him for in 2005.

After the press conference Sarkozy summoned a gaggle of French reporters and in a whisper relayed his account of events at Windsor. Famous for his early nights, he denied a rumour among the French that he had committed a protocol breach by leaving dinner earlier than the Queen, insisting he had stayed up late. ”I haven’t even gone jogging this morning.”

Sarkozy said it had been hard on his wife that she was up against other wives who had more experience. But he said she had done well.

”It’s not easy getting out of a car when you have a barrage of cameras pointed at you,” he pleaded, perhaps forgetting the years of paparazzi interest.

Meanwhile Bruni-Sarkozy delivered her first speech as First Lady, in English, at a lunch with Sarah Brown to highlight the battle to help mothers who needlessly die in childbirth.

She will give the proceeds of her forthcoming album to charity.

French press

Le Monde: As much a Brit in London as an American in Washington, M Sarkozy sometimes seemed to give in to the easy path of a lovers’ discourse, stating that ”British grandeur had often inspired the dreams of his youth”.

Libération: Their fairytale started in the alleys of Disneyland. It continued yesterday in England with a real Queen, pages and valets, carriages pulled by white horses and a huge castle where they had dinner and spent the night. But — perfidy — did they know that one of those horses was named Azincourt, after the French defeat in the 100 Years War?

Le Figaro: When Nicolas Sarkozy said: ”I love the English. I always thought that Europe needed the UK,” it came from the heart. But from a president of the French republic, the statement is somewhat surprising. In London yesterday the head of state admitted ”having been part of a minority in thinking along those lines”. Welcomed in incomparable royal pomp, Nicolas Sarkozy even indulged in a little Angela Merkel bashing, by declaring: ”The Paris-Berlin axis is fundamental, but not sufficient.”

Le Monde: In a neutral voice, the monarch briefly toasts Franco-British friendship, and Eurostar and Airbus in particular, ”showing that we can make efficient and lasting products by working together”. The president thanks the Queen in French for her ”exceptional invitation in this dream-like place”. The English seem to appreciate his long, rambling, emotional, almost latin, speech: at least those who understand French, unlike my two female neighbours, who play with their bread. The orchestra above plays muzak; add an announcement for a special offer for a washing powder and we could have been in a supermarket. – guardian.co.uk Â