Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is a narcissistic sexual huntress and calculated climber who figures out whom to seduce and then does it to achieve her goals, or so says a controversial new unauthorized biography, Carla: Une Vie Secrete, by French journalist Besma Lahouri.
Rumors around the book, which is only available in French, have filled France’s media in the recent run-up to its launch today. (Lahouri claims that a presidential aide tried to talk her out of writing it, but then cooperated with her. And the French presidential palace obtained a hard-to-get advanced copy to prepare for damage control—and to mull possible legal action against the author and publisher.)
Bruni’s life before becoming first lady was something of an open book given her penchant for provocative interviews, so Carla: A Secret Life, largely paints the “real” picture of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, based on dozens of interviews (most of which are sourced) with the former model’s past friends, colleagues, and competitors, as well as French political figures. That said, much of the material was already available, although this is the first time that it has been brought together in such a fashion.
The main focus is on Bruni’s opportunism in her professional and personal lives (and from a reading of this book, the line between them is quite thin). Lahouri also addresses in extenso the men that Bruni allegedly used to make it as a model, then a pop star, and then, most famously, to become a first lady. Much is also made of the cadre of Bruni’s ex-lovers who remain in her life. There is also an extensive section on her relationship with a particular surgeon she has known for decades—Lahouri even writes that Bruni had a nose job as an adolescent before becoming famous, in addition to additional work since. (Bruni has denied having had any aesthetic surgery.)
And then, of course, there is Bruni’s absurdly short courtship and then marriage to sitting French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and her alleged influence on his politics, fashion, and lifestyle.
Here are the choicest parts from the book that has France buzzing…
Her discreet love affairs:
“My secret encounter with Mick Jagger lasted eight years. We passed through all of the capitals on earth and no photographer ever surprised us,” Bruni bragged in comparing herself to Nicolas Sarkozy, who is an “amateur” in dealing with—and hiding from—the celebrity press. Sarkozy’s previous marriage to Cécilia Sarkozy began to visibly collapse in the run-up to his 2007 presidential bid, with the normally privacy-friendly French media revealing details and photos of their trysts.
Beating the eternal seducer, Mick Jagger, at this own game:
“He was crazy about her. He would have divorced (model Jerry Hall) to marry Carla. She is the one who didn’t want to,” according to photographer Jean-Marie Perier.
On becoming first lady:
“Thanks to this marriage, she has not only tasted feelings of happiness, but her relationship has above all reconnected her to the celebrity that her relationship with Mick Jagger once brought. Except that this time, no shaken-up spouse will spoil the feast.”
Carla & Michelle:
The growing French impression of Carla and Nicolas Sarkozy’s strangeness may also explain America’s first couple's reaction. “In Washington, Michelle Obama didn’t plan any day visit during Carla Bruni’s visit, not even a tea at the White House, ‘which she generally does with the wives of heads of state,’ according to a source familiar with her rituals. Lahouri writes: “Perhaps Michelle is still stunned from Carla’s sharing of a confidence a few months earlier: that the first lady of France and the president of the republic had made Queen Elizabeth wait for a rendezvous because they were making… love.”
The French first couple's long-sought dinner at the White House, perhaps not coincidentally, clocked in at less than two hours.
“When she finally learned of her husband’s liaison, Jerry Hall was crushed. She had three children, and was several years older than Carla... For her, it was an unfair fight. Enraged, she called [Bruni] for an explanation.” The author spoke with someone who was with the young Bruni when she got the call from Hall. “With aplomb,” Bruni denied the affair, slowly “pulls the phone away from her own ear… and hangs up.” In Lahouri’s account, “Carla had won… Thanks to [Mick Jagger], her reputation had become global.”
Seduction as career advancement:
Bruni sought out former French pop star Louis Bertignac, a founding member of the legendary French rock band Telephone. He fell for her beauty, intelligence, and “timidity”—and then he prepared the musical arrangements for her first two albums. “We stayed together for a year,” he said. “A month after our breakup, she was with Eric Clapton.”
Later, despite Clapton’s entreaties to his old friend Mick Jagger not to steal Bruni away, he did. Or she did—once Bruni began dating the Rolling Stone, she bragged to her friends that she had satisfied a goal that she set out for herself when she was 15 years old.
After her third album came out, while she was first lady, a seemingly embittered Bertignac commented, “There are things that show that she would like to be the most famous woman in the world.”
In 2003 to 2004, Justine Lévy, the daughter of Bernard-Henri Lévy, wrote a “novel” that le tout Paris read as an indictment of Bruni for stealing her husband, the handsome young philosopher Raphaël Enthoven. The bestseller described a surgically impeccable Bruni-like character as a veritable “terminator” of men… or of their wives, depending on your perspective.
Carla storms Hollywood:
Given a small role in the recently wrapped Woody Allen romantic comedy Midnight in Paris, Lahouri cites reports that, “No fewer than 35 takes were necessary for a single scene in which Carla Bruni didn’t have any lines. It seems that she couldn’t keep her eyes off of the camera.” Allen has denied this rumor.
Watch out, Sarko:
When the editor Sylvie Delassus told Bruni how long she had been with the same man, Laurent Joffrin, the editor in chief of the leftist newspaper Liberation, Bruni responded: “Twenty five years with the same man? I don’t understand how someone can stay with the same person for more than three years.”
The French don’t believe in them:
Author Denis Tillinac notes that Sarkozy’s popularity was based largely on how comfortable many French people felt toward him. Now, with Carla, as they pass their vacations at her sumptuous residence at Cap Nègre on the Mediterranean, “surrounded by the exes of his wife, it is a little strange for (Sarkozy’s base). They say to themselves, ‘He isn’t one of ours, he is one of theirs…”
The founder of the provocative political magazine Marianne is quoted putting his finger on a broad impression about France’s peculiar first couple. “Unconsciously, the French don’t believe in this couple. For them, Sarkozy bought himself a star. The man is genial, certainly, but so narcissistic. What he likes is the jet-set left, the left with a feather in its ass: That fascinates him… That she defends the left to her husband on the right is mostly cool. What is unheard of is that he lets himself be influenced (politically) for his own pleasure.”
The secret of her success:
“Where Carla is strong," explains the music critic Pierre Siankowski, "is that she very quickly and effectively identified the people who mattered in the milieu that she wanted to evolve in. She knows perfectly which buttons to press and integrates rapidly in the rules of the game. With a certain cynicism, she knows who to seduce.”
Her lonely childhood:
Carla Bruni’s childhood was defined largely by isolation from parents, who were often absent (partly due to their love affairs). Her isolation from her siblings was likely enhanced by the discovery that she was the fruit of her mother's long-term affair with a Brazilian grocery store magnate and classical musician. As Lahouri portrays it, "She was the illegitimate child, the outcast, the complex one, who slept with her nanny until she was 6 years old and whose mother, during vacations, woke her up with her piano playing, Mozart's Turkish March. Of Carla, you might have guessed the golden childhood, the days passed frolicking in the immense garden of the chateau in Turin, and the vacations beneath the Azurian sun. The mystery is this little rich girl who was brought up by nursemaids but who was so alone. Today, the first lady caulked in her mansion... far from the tumult of the court of the Élysée (presidential palace) says she likes solitude. The truth, however, is that she has never stopped trying to battle it. Jacques Séguéla, the famous advertising man who is close to Bruni (and who introduced her to Sarkozy), confides: 'She hates solitude.' All of these years, she has sought a refuge, whether in the maternal womb of a nanny, in the arms of a celebrity or in the cocoon of loyal friends..."
Eric Pape has reported on Europe and the Mediterranean region for Newsweek since 2003. He is co-author of the graphic novel Shake Girl, which was inspired by one of his articles. He has written for the Los Angeles Times magazine, Spin, Reader's Digest, Vibe, Courrier International, Salon, and Los Angeles from five continents. He is based in Paris. Follow him at twitter.com/ericpape