World leaders will not forget their first glimpse of her at the G8 summit in June. Appearing under an explosion of camera flashes in flimsy black lace, Cecilia, the wife of Nicolas Sarkozy, looked more like an Oscar nominee than a French premiere dame.
Having dazzled them all, she then departed, citing an important engagement in Paris, and Sarkozy was left as the only head of state without a spouse at a dinner.
The extent to which the unpredictable Cecilia makes her own rules became even clearer last week: not content with trying to liberate the economy, shake up education and the civil service and get France working again, the Sarkozys are also revolutionizing the role of first lady by turning her into the designer-clad queen of backstairs diplomacy.
Her mission to Libya to help win freedom for the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor accused of injecting children with HIV prompted complaints that the French were sweeping in at the last minute to steal the glory from the EU after its months of painstaking diplomacy. Horror over the nuclear reactor France has allegedly promised to build Libya as part of the deal was brushed off, as Paris accused its critics of envy over its devastatingly effective new diplomatic tool.
The deployment of Cecilia helped to clinch a deal, certainly: Muammar Gadaffi, the eccentric - some say romantic -- Libyan leader fell quickly under the charm of the tall, chic Frenchwoman as they chatted in his Bedouin tent. "It was hard for him to say no to her," a diplomat said.
Sarkozy knows all about that. He openly dotes on Cecilia, a key adviser for the past several years, and desperately seeks her approval. This has led some to describe the statuesque former model as the pint-sized president's "control tower."
A telegenic brood of children -- two grown daughters from her previous marriage, two grown sons from his, and 10-year-old Louis, the child they had together -- has enlivened life in the Elysee after years in which the only child to set foot there was the former president's grandson.
Cecilia's style has drawn comparisons to Jackie Kennedy. A habit of bolting, however, makes her, to some, a potential liability who has already driven "Sarko" to despair by leaving him twice for another man. A senator in the president's conservative party recalled how dejected Sarkozy looked the first time Cecilia went to live in New York with Richard Attias, a Moroccan-born advertising executive, in 2005. This was not what Sarkozy had intended when he began preaching la rupture, or a break with the political past. "He sat there eating chocolates, one after the other, not focusing on anything. He was a mess." Their very public reconciliation did not end tensions between them and the body language sometimes seems contrived. So will it end in a real rupture? Or can the hugely ambitious Cecilia carve for herself an interesting and rewarding enough role to compensate for what she regards as the hell of living in a fishbowl?
French first ladies have generally contented themselves with mute appearances alongside their men. Cecilia does not find that prospect appealing: she once said "the whole idea of being first lady bores me" and, until recently, a question mark hovered over whether she would be anything more than a president's part-time spouse, so erratic was her behavior in the run-up to Sarkozy's electoral triumph in May. Just weeks before the voting she disappeared, prompting speculation that she had eloped for a third time with the blue-eyed Attias. Another rumor had it that she was romantically involved with Marc Levy, a dashing French author living in London, where one of Cecilia's daughters works in a bank.
If a British politician mislaid his wife during the most important campaign of his career it would be headline news but the French press ignored it: Sarkozy, a close friend of the country's media barons, has made clear he is tired of having his love life picked over and got an editor sacked last year for printing a picture of Cecilia flat-hunting with her lover in New York.
As voting drew near, Cecilia reappeared from what turned out to have been a break in Florida. In what seemed like an extraordinary show of indifference, though, she failed to vote in the final round of the election.
Politicians' wives usually stick like limpets to their victorious husbands but that night Sarkozy was alone in his glory as he addressed the nation. Nor did Cecilia bother to turn up for a victory dinner that she'd organized. When she finally appeared just before midnight at a concert on the Place de la Concorde she was clearly sulking.
The Sunday Times
Güncelleme Tarihi: 30 Temmuz 2007, 14:34