Sarkozy seeks boost from his ‘Lady Diana’

President Nicolas Sarkozy took Carla Bruni, his wife of one month, on honeymoon in a South African game park this weekend after launching the Italian singer and supermodel's career as a Gallic Lady Diana.

In her overseas debut as the French first lady, Madame Carla Sarkozy, as she is now known, chatted with the wife of a missing opposition leader in Chad. She visited a women's collective and a centre for Aids victims in Johannesburg. ( Times )

It was a far cry from playing the guitar or modelling clothes, but she learnt fast. "It was a unique and moving experience," she said on Friday.

It was clear that Sarkozy, whose approval rating has tumbled in recent weeks, was hoping for a Bruni "bounce" in the polls. He has been accused of undermining the dignity of his office with ill-chosen gestures and remarks, and is desperate to win back favour. "We hope that she will win the hearts of the French people, just as Lady Diana won the hearts of the English," said a presidential aide.

Bruni, 40, seemed more than willing to give it a try. "I am hoping to be able to engage in humanitarian work," she said after meeting Nelson Mandela. "He [Sarkozy] helps me for that."

Whatever her programme on a state visit to Britain this month, when the couple will be guests of the Queen at Windsor Castle, any evidence that the multilingual Bruni intends to take the role seriously will come as a relief to a president who was let down by his last leading lady.

Aside from her mission to free five Bulgarian nurses jailed by Colonel Gadaffi, Sarkozy's former wife Cecilia had little time for the role of premiere dame, saying it bored her.

She famously failed to appear for a picnic with George W Bush and his wife Laura in Maine, and divorced the president last October saying she was in love with another man. Since then, she has accused him of being a sauteur- or "shagger" - who loves "no one, not even his own children".

At first glance, Bruni did not seem an ideal candidate to replace Cecilia. Some commentators believed Sarkozy, 53, had gone mad when he married her in the Elysee Palace last month, barely three months after meeting her at a dinner party.

She once welcomed a journalist to an interview saying, "Sorry for being topless," and has been quoted as saying: "Monogamy bores me terribly."

As Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, her sister, put it: "When my sister wants someone, she takes him." That explains how she ended up with Raphael Enthoven, the philosopher, and father of her six-year-old son: she had been going out with Enthoven's father when they met.

It also explains her relationship with Sarkozy: Bruni, whose conquests include Sir Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and Laurent Fabius, France's former Socialist prime minister, had said before meeting the president: "I want a man with nuclear power."

In Africa, Sarkozy scarcely let her out of his sight, prompting suggestions from some observers that his mind was not fully focused on South Africa. The two were seen whispering to each other during an encounter with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

"You will understand that I am paying particular attention to she who is accompanying me for the first time on an official journey," Sarkozy told a gathering of French people in Johannesburg. Turning to Bruni, he added: "I am proud to be here with you, thank you."

His wife modestly lowered her eyes. Dressed in a simple black dress, the willowy Bruni seemed determined not to outshine the leader who has promised a "rupture" with France's old habits.

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