Now that all that kerfuffle about the French state visit to the UK last week is starting to fade away, it's just dawned on me that I don't actually know what Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy actually discussed.... perhaps that's not so surprising really, as the vast majority of the media coverage focused not on the politics of the visit, but focused instead on Sarkozy's new wife.
Well, can you blame them? Has there been a more glamorous first lady? Jackie Kennedy had nothing on Carla Bruni, but does Grace Kelly count?
Poor Gordon and Sarah Brown had no chance next to a couple as glamorous as this, and perhaps a bit of cross-channel one-upmanship was exactly what Sarko had in mind when he popped over for a visit (Brown getting lost on the way to his table at the state banquet hosted by the Queen probably didn't help him much on this score). The French President and his wife certainly made something of a splash over here, although you'd imagine that if he was hoping to be seen as a man of substance, then perhaps he might be a bit disappointed that all of the attention has been on his lovely wife and his apparently burgeoning midlife-crisis: some reasonably tasteful nude shots from Bruni's modelling past were splashed across the papers, we read about her relationships with Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Donald Trump (ick, ick, ick), some rich bloke and then the same rich bloke's son. We read that she thinks monogamy is doomed and that polygamy is the way forwards. We sniggered at the funny little French guy, thought that their marriage was a mildly interesting car-crash waiting to happen.... but swooned at the feet of his wife all the same.
Maybe Sarko will have the last laugh after all - apparently the opinion polls in France are showing that his tailspinning popularity rating have started to climb in the wake of his visit to the UK, where no doubt the French people were secretly quite pleased at how much of a fuss was being made over their first couple. Besides, I'm sure you can put up with quite a lot when you know that at the end of the day you get to go to bed with one of the world's most desirable women. Some consolation, eh?
Still, there's more to Sarkozy than this. Of course there is. There was a very interesting article in The Observer yesterday about the number of women in Sarkozy's cabinet - seven in a cabinet of fifteen. That's a very reasonable percentage, especially when compared to Gordon Brown's six out of twenty-three. The Observer, it has to be said, did take a certain amount of pleasure in pointing out just how much more glamorous these French ministers were than their English counterparts: Hazel Blears or Rachida Dati? or Ruth Kelly or Rama Yade? The comparison is unfair on everyone, of course, as these are all extremely capable women and we should be saluting Sarkozy that he has brought so many into his Government (Yade is only 31 years old, too. Can you imagine someone that young making the British cabinet? No, me neither.)
Carla Bruni, of course, has been spoken about in terms of the way she looks for the last twenty years, but why should she still have to put up with it? In the same paper as that article on Sarkozy's cabinet (which, to be fair, focused as much on how formidable and intelligent those women are as well as how glamorous they looked), Barbara Ellen wrote a column about the French State visit:
"This is not intended as an attack on Carla, though if it were, there would be no shortage of ammunition. She's a supermodel turned folk singer (donnez moi strength!); she has said excruciating man-pleasing things in the past such as: 'Monogamy bores me'; she has slept with Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and Donald Trump. Is it really necessary to go on?"
That is an attack though, isn't it Barbara? You're trying to make a cheap gag about models and how they are invariably rubbish when they try their hand at anything else; you are insinuating that her career as a folk singer must be appalling and God-what-the-hell-was-she-thinking? Well, for your information, as I don't imagine you've heard any of her music, Carla Bruni is actually a very accomplished musician.
"Quelq'un M'a Dit" is a wonderful album. In fact, it's one of my favourites. The follow-up album, "No Promises", isn't quite as good, but as Bruni is trying to put the poetry of people like W.B. Yeats, W.H. Auden and Emily Dickinson to music, I for one am prepared to cut her a little slack for her ambition. English isn't her native language, you know. Actually, neither is French. She's from Italy, but she speaks two other languages fluently. How many do you think Barbara Ellen can speak?
It's easy to sneer, isn't it?
Incidentally, Brown and Sarkozy discussed defence ties (with France apparently about to commit more troops to Afghanistan), stemming the tide of illegal immigrants through Calais, the probable expansion of nuclear power in the UK and the coordinated funding of school places for 16 million children in Africa. It wasn't all state banquets, football at Arsenal and smooching by the Thames (that one was Sarkozy and Bruni, in case you wondered. I don't think Gordon Brown was involved).
Having said that, those shoes are terrible, aren't they? I'm a tall man, so perhaps I don't understand these matters, but what exactly is wrong with having a partner who is taller than you? Is there more or less shame in having obviously stacked heels than in simply being short? Is poor Carla going to be consigned to flats for the entire duration of their marriage? Bugger nuclear power... this is what we really need to know.
which way now
3 hours ago