3:28am

Sun February 26, 2012
Europe

Will France's First Lady Be Able To Seduce Voters?

Originally published on Wed February 29, 2012 9:20 am

In the traditional world of French politics, spouses don't usually jump into the fray. But French first lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy is anything but a traditional political spouse.

Her husband, President Nicolas Sarkozy, has just announced he is running for re-election this spring. It's a challenge: Polls show him trailing the Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande.

Sarkozy's wife has promised to do everything she can to help her husband win — and that includes hitting the campaign trail.

It will be her first political campaign. Bruni married Sarkozy in 2007, just after he was elected and his second wife left him. In a rare interview with the BBC last fall, Bruni Sarkozy talked about their brief courtship.

"Walking around the garden of the Palais of the Elysee [the official residence of the French president], and he was giving me all these details about tulips and roses. And I said to myself, 'My God, I must marry this man,'" she recalled. "He's president and he knows everything about flowers as well. This is incredible."

But the French people were taken aback by the highly public, lightning-quick courtship between the supermodel-turned-pop singer and their hyperactive new leader. Many thought it wasn't fitting presidential behavior.

Since then, the first lady has taken a lower profile. She's become so discreet that no one has even seen photos of the couple's baby daughter, born in October.

Writer Andre Bercoff says Bruni Sarkozy has now earned the right to enter the political arena.

"I think she can help her husband by something very important: by showing that he's very happy. He's happily married. He just had a child at the Elysee Palace, which is very, very new," Bercoff says. "She has class, she has style. She's definitely an asset."

Bruni Sarkozy's "coming out" is delighting the media. She has appeared on magazine covers and television — though she hasn't said much beyond the fact that she thinks her husband's ideas are all fabulous.

Sarah Merlino, a reporter at the glossy society magazine Gala, says the first lady's culture and intellect — she hails from a prominent Italian family — is also an asset for Sarkozy. Carla has reportedly gotten Nicolas to read more, and to watch different films. And that's not all.

"Carla Bruni is a pacifier," Merlino says. "She's very soft. And she softens the brutal character of her ill-mannered husband."

Watchers of Bruni Sarkozy, who has a nearly 70 percent approval rating, say the first lady has slowly but surely seduced the French. Now all she has to do is convince them to vote for her husband.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has just announced he is running for reelection this spring. He's trailing socialist candidate Francois Hollande. But Sarkozy may get a boost from his wife, former supermodel Carla Bruni, whose promised to campaign for her husband if he needs her. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has the story.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: In the traditional world of French politics, political spouses don't usually jump into the fray. But First Lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy says she's going to do everything she can to help her husband win. It will be her first political campaign. Bruni married Sarkozy in 2007 just after he was elected and his wife left him. In a rare interview with the BBC last fall, Bruni Sarkozy talks about their courtship.

CARLA BRUNI SARKOZY: Walking around the garden of the Palais of the Elysee and he was giving me all these details about tulip and roses. And I said to myself, my God, I must marry this man. He's president and he knows everything about flowers as well. This is incredible.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

SARKOZY: (Singing in French)

BEARDSLEY: But the French were taken aback by the highly public, whirlwind courtship between the supermodel-turned-pop-singer and their hyperactive new leader. Many thought it wasn't fitting presidential behavior. Since then, the first lady has toned it way down. She's become so discreet that no one has even seen photos of the couple's baby daughter born in October. Writer Andre Bercoff says Bruni's discretion has won back the French and earned her the right to enter the political arena.

ANDRE BERCOFF: I think she can help her husband by something very important by showing that he's very happy. He's happily married. He just had a child at the Elysee Palace which is very, very new. She has class. She has style. She's definitely an asset.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: The French media is delighted by Bruni's coming out of sorts. She's been on magazine covers and television. Though she hasn't said much beyond the fact that she thinks her husband's ideas are all fabulous. Sarah Merlino is a reporter at Gala, a glossy society magazine. She says Bruni's culture and intellect - the first lady hails from a prominent Italian family - is also an asset for Sarkozy. Carla has reportedly gotten Nicolas to read more and to watch different films. And that's not all, says Merlino.

SARAH MERLINO: Carla Bruni is a pacifier. She's very soft. And she softens the brutal character of her ill-mannered husband.

BEARDSLEY: With a nearly 70 percent approval rating, Carla Bruni watchers say the first lady has slowly but surely seduced the French. Now, all she has to do is convince them to like her husband. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

SARKOZY: (Singing in French)

MARTIN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.