France's elusive first lady sets tongues wagging

01:43, Jan 31 2009
QUESTIONS: The failure of France's first lady to show up to lunch with George W Bush has set tongues wagging in France, again raising questions about Cecilia Sarkozy's character.

Capricious, mercurial or just unlucky? The failure of France's first lady to show up to lunch with US President George W Bush has once again raised questions about Cecilia Sarkozy's character.

President Nicolas Sarkozy unexpectedly arrived alone for the informal gathering at a Bush family compound in Maine, near the luxury lakeside residence where the French leader and his wife are spending their holidays.

Sarkozy said his wife was suffering from a severe sore throat and could not make the journey, but the fact Cecilia was spotted shopping with friends on both the day before and the day after the gathering raised eyebrows back home.

"Cecilia has set a new record for making a swift recovery," a news reader said dryly on France Inter radio.

The no-show came just weeks after Cecilia made a spectacular foray into international politics by apparently helping to broker the release of Bulgarian medics imprisoned in Libya, and left commentators puzzling over her motives.

"With every day that passes, the mystery deepens: Who is Cecilia Sarkozy?" French regional newspaper Le Telegramme wrote.

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"What does the wife of the president of the republic want? To live her life as she likes, without constraint? In which case, why does she accept invitations, like that made personally by Laura Bush?" it added, saying that US first lady Laura had personally organised the lunch with Cecilia.

French papers quoted doctors as saying sore throats could flare like a summer storm, but it was not the first time that Cecilia had failed to stand by her man at an important moment.

After playing virtually no part in her husband's election campaign earlier this year, she famously failed to turn out to vote for him in the second round ballot on May 6.

This snub provoked widespread speculation that the couple, who briefly separated in 2005, were set to divorce, but Cecilia proved the gossip-mongers wrong by turning up at her husband's inauguration ceremony and stealing the show in a stylish dress.

However, the whispering resumed weeks later when she stayed barely 24 hours at the three-day G8 summit of world power leaders in Germany, and then when she snubbed a concert on the July 14 national Bastille day holiday.

"People will no doubt accuse us of making too much of these absences," regional daily Charente Libre wrote, suggesting that her absence on Saturday came close to causing a diplomatic incident between the United States and France.

"But, without doubt, we would have paid less attention to this American episode if it hadn't been for the fact that Cecilia was so obviously prominent in Tripoli, at the request of her husband the president."

Her intervention on behalf of the Bulgarian nurses suggested she was seeking an unprecedented role in a country where first ladies are expected to be seen, not heard in politics.

Sarkozy has said Cecilia will announce in September what she plans to do during his presidency, but she has already made clear that whatever she does, it will be unconventional.

"I don't see myself as a first lady. It bores me. I'm not politically correct," she told an interviewer two years ago.

Reuters