It’s never too late for another shot at love. And no one exemplifies that notion better than Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Over the weekend, the 76-year-old former cruise-ship crooner announced his engagement to 27-year-old Francesca Pascale. Never mind the half-century age gap, or the fact that he is still married to his second wife Veronica Lario, the two are in love and nothing will get in their way, said Berlusconi during a 90-minute interview on Mediaset Canale 5 Domenica Live, one of his television stations, on Sunday morning. “There is a 49-year age difference between us. She is a beautiful girl on the outside and even more beautiful on the inside, she has solid moral principles. She is very close to me. She loves me and I feel the same way.”
As spontaneous and sweet a love story as it may appear on the surface, the two say they have actually given their relationship plenty of thought before taking such a big step. Berlusconi said that he met Pascale, a former shop clerk and TV presenter who hails from Naples, seven years ago at a political reception. Under his watchful guidance, she tried unsuccessfully to enter politics in 2006 as a candidate in local elections for his center-right Popolo Della Liberta (PDL) party. She had better luck in 2009, when she won a seat as a provincial council member, where she served until last July when she resigned from politics “for love,” according to her council colleagues who were interviewed on Italian television when the news of the engagement broke. Berlusconi also nominated her for a European Parliament seat in 2009, but she was unsuccessful in that bid.
Last year, Pascale founded the somewhat esoteric fan club called “Silvio Ci Manchi” or “Silvio We Miss You,” to try to counter-balance the bad press related to the former prime minister’s resignation from office last November due to his criminal trials and alleged sexcapades. She famously hired a plane to fly the banner “Silvio, we miss you” over crowded Italian beaches last summer. At the time, she told the local Neapolitan newspaper Il Mattino that the most important things in her life were “family, politics and Silvio Berlusconi.” The former prime minister also said he had the blessing of his daughter Marina, 46, from his first marriage. “My daughter Marina appreciates her and loves her very much too,” he said.
The two have not set a wedding date, in part because Berlusconi is still married to Lario, his second wife with whom he has three children. Divorce negotiations are reportedly hostile, with Lario demanding a substantial monthly alimony in addition to a public apology for what she says was blatant philandering during their 19-year marriage. Lario famously wrote an op-ed piece in La Repubblica newspaper calling her soon-to-be-ex husband a “sick man” who needs psychological help for what she alluded to as a sex addiction. She said she no longer wanted to be married to a man who “associates with minors.”
Pascale is already being called the new “first lady” of Italy, though current polls show that Berlusconi is lagging far behind his center-left opponent leading up to elections to be held next February. The engagement announcement came during a somewhat loose-ended interview in which he also laid out his political platform for his fourth bid to be prime minister. He made ample fiscal promises in an attempt to appeal to cash-strapped voters, including abolishing the property tax on primary homes that his tecnorat successor, Mario Monti, reinstated. Berlusconi won his first electoral campaign in 1994 with the same promise.
Berlusconi is also likely to loom large over an upcoming pretrial hearing against his former associate and girl-fixer Gianpaolo Tarantini, which is set for Feb. 8, just weeks before general elections. Tarantini and his wife were allegedly caught on telephone wiretaps discussing blackmailing Berlusconi. According to court documents obtained by The Daily Beast, Tarantini allegedly blackmailed Berlusconi in order to keep quiet about a slew of prostitutes he allegedly procured for the then-prime minister’s orgiastic parties at his villa in Sardinia. The hearing couldn’t come at a worse time. During intercepted phone calls related to the Tarantini investigation, Berlusconi was apparently recorded referring to Italy as a “shitty country that makes me sick”—testimony that may be untimely in the days before an election.
Berlusconi doesn’t seem worried, though. He looks every bit a man in love in photographs with his bride-to-be with whom he has been seen snuggling publicly around Milan. And in preparation for life as the third Mrs. Berlusconi—and potentially Italy’s next first lady—the Italian press has reported that Pascale has stopped at nothing to please her man. Media outlets have speculated that she may have undergone plastic surgery to redefine her neckline to Berlusconi’s taste. The prime minister has also reportedly paid for diction lessons to smooth out her rough Neapolitan accent.
So much for love being blind. But at least the media magnate has found new happiness. “Finally I feel less lonely,” he said during the interview on Sunday. And who can begrudge him for that?