THE FIRST LADY Carla Bruni-Sarkozy brought a touch of glamour and elegance to French politics that hadn’t been seen since the days of Marie Antoinette, making her one of the most recognisable women in the world.
Guy Kelly / Telegraph Magazine / The Interview People
BY GUY KELLY
Every piece of jewellery a woman wears,’ Carla BruniSarkozy informs me, 'tells its own little story. Who has given it to them? For what reason? Was it a special celebration or did they buy it themselves? Jewels are like memories, you know, they’re pieces of your past…’ We are in a suite on the fifth floor of the Bulgari Hotel in west London. Bruni – dressed in a white silk shirt, high-waisted black trousers and ballet pumps – is draped across a quite preposterous cream leather sofa, looking like a modern-day Cleopatra. She seems to have only slightly fewer staff, too, the majority of whom are flitting here and there in preparation for tonight’s opening of Bulgari’s new flagship store on Bond Street. Bruni, an ambassador for the luxury Italian brand since 2013 and loyal customer for many years more, will be the guest of honour. "I have stories about new and old jewels, given to me by people I love very much,’ she powers on, admirably unperturbed by the hubbub around her. "But I don’t wear much each day. I just like to add a little shine sometimes." I’ve scarcely finished asking for an example when Bruni leaps toward me, cat-like, raising her left hand aloft and fluttering her fingers in a sort of backwards wave. A slim diamond-studded band glints in the light. "This is my wedding ring, the most significant piece I've been given,’ she says, staring at it as if it were put on her finger only yesterday. "There’s nothing more meaningful. It’s just a simple design, with our names engraved on the inside, but a wedding ring is more than jewellery, it’s a commitment. And anyway, what’s the point of getting married if it’s not for the ring, right?" Heiress, model, socialite, musician, philanthropist. For many years Carla Bruni could be defined in any number of ways, yet over the last decade it is the story attached to that very ring – of her wedding to French president Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace in 2008 after a frantic two-month courtship, and of her subsequent four-year stint as First Lady of her adopted nation – that has made her one of the most recognisable women in the world.
In person Bruni, 48, has none of the frosty aloofness one might expect of somebody blessed with such extreme helpings of wealth, beauty and (temporarily, at least) power. Wearing minimal make-up, she’s utterly natural: unguarded, gracious, thoughtful and as quick with a joke as she is with a song – which, for better or worse, is very quick indeed. After more than 15 years away from modelling, appearing in recent campaigns for Bulgari – a brand she says she admires for its "patient and old-fashioned savoir faire that shows traditions can last even when life is fast" – has seen Bruni back where she started. Happily, the atmosphere on a fashion shoot now, she says, is just as she’d left it. "It was all the same, which was so nice for me. I like designers, I like models, make-up artists, hairdressers, photographers,’ she says, her staccato accent lending itself particularly well to lists. "Fashion is like a big funny family. Days are full of chat, and I’m Italian so I just talk, talk, talk. Music is a lonely job, but as a model you are always in the middle of a group. I like that." The daughter of Alberto Bruni Tedeschi, a wealthy tyre industrialist and composer, and Marisa Borini, a concert pianist, Bruni was born in Turin. At seven she left for Paris with her brother, Virginio, who died of complications from HIV in 2006 aged just 46, and her sister, Valeria, an actress, in a move reportedly prompted by the threat of kidnapping by the Brigate Rossa, a far-left gang targeting the children of rich Italians in the 1970s. Heiress to the family fortune, Bruni then attended the prestigious Château Mont-Choisi finishing school in Lausanne, where, as well as learning fluent English, she remembers developing a talent for gentle disobedience. "I used to like being the one elected by my friends to ask the teachers questions at school," she says, giggling. "Oh I asked the most dreadful questions, like, 'Sir, can we please smoke in the courtyard? Because it’s dangerous to be outside school and we want to smoke…'” "I loved being young. Now the young people in France are going out in the street against the law, but they don’t even know
2016 JULY / AUGUST