Tue, May 08, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Sarkozys reflect France's changing sociology


Cecilia Sarkozy was conspicuously absent from husband Nicolas' triumphant presidential campaign, but she was conspicuously present for his election victory speech to tens of thousands of cheering supporters.

It was enough to keep the inquiring media at bay -- for now.

The 49-year-old former model and PR executive was not with Sarkozy when he voted in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine on Sunday. Nor was she with him later when he was driven to party headquarters to acknowledge his success.

But she was on the stage with him at the Place de la Concorde in the center of the French capital when he delivered his speech to 30,000 ecstatic supporters.

Cecilia has shown she is a fiercely independent woman unlikely to fit easily into the discreet role of first lady. And that is what gets everyone talking.

"I don't see myself as a first lady. It bores me. I prefer going round in combat trousers and cowboy boots. I don't fit the mold," the elegant brunette has said.

Her arrival at the Elysee will certainly send in a blast of modernity after 12 years of the Chiracs, whose bourgeois respectability sat well with the Louis XV furniture of the 18th century palace that houses the president's office.

Like the defeated Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, Cecilia and her husband are in a relationship that flies in the face of presidential convention but which in many ways reflects the changing sociology of France.

Of Jewish-Spanish ancestry, Cecilia's foreign roots match those of Sarkozy, who is half Hungarian and one quarter Jewish.

Cecilia's absence from Sarkozy's election campaign set tongues wagging and reawakened memories of 2005 when the couple split for several months.

As if to quell the gossip, she was photographed voting with Sarkozy and celebrating his victory in round one two weeks ago, but was again absent from his side when he voted in the decisive second round on Sunday.

When Sarkozy entered government in 2002, Cecilia had an office in the interior ministry, but in early 2005 she disappeared and it was revealed she had left him for an advertising executive in New York.

A few months later they were very publicly reconciled.

In his autobiography, Sarkozy said the experience left him "profoundly shaken. Even today I find it hard to talk about it."

He also tacitly admitted that he had pushed their relationship in the media, saying he had "overly exposed her."

Cecilia met Nicolas Sarkozy in 1984 when he officiated as mayor at her first wedding. According to a recent biography, he was infatuated by her on the spot and pursued her till their marriage 12 years later.

By then he had also been married and divorced. Together they had four children from their first marriages -- she two girls, he two boys -- and in 1997 they had a son of their own, Louis.

Despite her protests about not fitting the mold of first lady and despite the rumors of marital problems, family friends insist the couple are still together and that Cecilia intends to join him at the Elysee -- possibly acting as a communications adviser.

"They have had their problems but she is hugely important to him. She protects him," said one friend who asked not to be named. "She will take on the role of first lady. A bit like Bernadette Chirac -- but a different Bernadette: one who knows what's going on."

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