Carla Bruni turns the knife as she lets her music speak for herself
Hollande eclipsed in media by predecessor and his wife
French-Italian singer Carla Bruni performs during the Echo music awards ceremony in Berlin last week. Photograph: Markus Schreiber/AP
Nearly 11 months have passed since François Hollande trounced Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential election. Yet if one is judged by media attention, there are days when you’d think ‘Sarko’ and his wife, Carla Bruni, were still France’s first couple.
Sometimes it is negative, as when a Bordeaux judge placed Sarkozy under formal investigation on suspicion of taking campaign funds from France’s richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt (90). Sarkozy still acts as if he were president, going to Libya last week to mark the second anniversary of the Nato bombardment and conferring the Legion of Honour on the Belgian foreign minister in Brussels yesterday.
But if Sarko misses power, Bruni seems to have been liberated by the end of her purdah in the palace. She sang in public only once during her four years as first lady. On March 21st, the evening that Sarkozy was indicted, she put on a brave, the- show-must-go-on face at the Echo Music Awards in Berlin.
Bruni’s fourth album, titled – in English – Little French Songs – will be released on April 1st and she is due to concert tour in the autumn. The playful, melancholy and light-hearted Little French Songs have prompted a media blitz worthy of a first lady. Le Nouvel Observateur , Elle magazine, Le Figaro and Le Parisien have all published lengthy interviews with the chanteuse , who yesterday reacted to the legal proceedings against her husband.
Sarkozy “is serene and combative”, Bruni told Le Parisien . “It’s painful to talk about it and it’s also painful not to talk about it. It’s painful for the family,” she said, wiping away tears. “It’s unthinkable to imagine that a man like him could abuse the weakness of a lady the age of his mother.”
Two songs, about the present and past inhabitants of the Élysée are generating a great deal of commentary. Mon Raymond is a gushing, sentimental tribute to Sarkozy, compared by some to Édith Piaf’s classic Mon Homme .
Bruni would enjoy the comparison, for her interviews are filled with allusions to France’s great popular musicians: Barbara; Brassens; Brel; Ferrat; Ferré. Reminded by Le Figaro of Gérard Depardieu’s remark that France is triste , Bruni replied: “It’s the times that are sad, not France.”
Mon Raymond , and Bruni’s interviews, are a retort to those who speculated that she would leave Sarkozy as soon as he lost power, a reproach to those who have questioned what a beautiful and talented woman sees in such an abrasive politician.
Bruni says she is “terribly happy, thanks to this man who makes me happy. I never thought I would meet someone at my age.” She was 40 when they fell in love. She says her life has been “enchanted” by her encounter with Sarkozy, “irreversibly, I hope”.
Raymond is her pet name for him. “I hesitated between Raymond, Roger and Raoul, but Raoul is complicated and it only rhymes with Seoul!” she told Elle . “He has a virile side, which the song tries to describe, but he also has a gentleness and a way that is all his own. He is absolutely unique.”
In slangy French, Bruni compares Sarkozy to an “atomic bomb” and “dynamite” who “turns the air all electric when he shows up”. Her “Raymond” is “the boss, the guy who keeps the shop”, a “pirate” who stops at nothing.
Bruni was reportedly angered that Hollande failed to perform the customary courtesy of accompanying her and Sarkozy to their car when they left the Élysée after last year’s bitter election. She told friends that she wrote Le Pingouin about Hollande, although she now claims the diatribe is a song about all crude people.
In her interview with Elle , Bruni describes herself as a “fairly shy and courteous” woman who is always astounded by contemptuousness and rudeness. She knows how to turn the knife, though, hitting Hollande where it hurts: in his utter blandness.
If Sarkozy was “atomic dynamite”, Hollande seems void of distinguishing features. “He’s not handsome, the penguin. Not up, not down, not ugly,” she sings. “Not hot, not cold . . . not nothing.” She mocks the penguin’s “disdain” and “little sovereign air,” his lack of manners. “If one day you cross my path,” Bruni taunts him, “I’ll teach you to kiss my hand.”
Hollande posed for the official presidential photo at the bottom of the Élysée garden, with the palace dwarfed in the background. “Hey penguin,” Bruni sings. “You look all alone in your garden.”
Hollande may look more lonely than ever tonight, when he will face the French nation on prime time television, in an effort to reverse his plummeting approval rating. Hollande fell six percentage points last week alone, to 31 per cent, a record low for a French president after 11 months in office.