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Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, What Next?

Singer-songwriter, former model and novice actress, Carla Bruni has lately mostly been known for being married to now outgoing French President Nicolas Sarkozy. When she became the First Lady, she may have lost her left-wing Bohemian fans. What's

Save her from early retirement!
Save her from early retirement!
Sascha Lehnartz

PARIS - Polling stations had barely closed on Sunday evening when the jokes started on Twitter. "Carla Bruni just changed her Facebook relationship status from ‘married" to ‘it's complicated…""

One wise guy using the moniker Kim Jong Un posted that he'd just received a text message from the soon-to-be former French First Lady saying that she found men with nuclear weapons irresistible. (Bruni is purported to have once stated: "I want a man who has nuclear power.")

Nasty jibes; not interesting per se -- except that in Carla Bruni-Sarkozy's case the basic question is legitimate: what is the next act for the former top model, on-again off-again singer and actress, and French First Lady?

Now 43, the then Ms. Bruni was first thrust onto the French political stage as Nicolas's Sarkozy new partner during a visit to Disneyland Paris just a few weeks after the French President's separation from his wife Cécilia in late 2007. A few months later, in February 2008, the pair married in relatively low-key fashion.

The French did not exactly reach out and collectively hug their Italian-born First Lady, but she did chalk up points on official occasions, truly elegant in all circumstances, whether she was with Queen Elizabeth or Michelle Obama.

Teaching Sarko the classics

Bruni-Sarkozy also collected kudos for having a positive cultural influence on the chief of state. It was reported that on some evenings she sat him down on the sofa in her posh 16th arrondissement townhouse, to view cinema classics on DVD.

The First Lady often said that she had an entirely un-political personality, and over time this became an effective means of focusing public attention on what her husband was doing.

"When I see what's happening in Greece, it frightens me," she said in February, adding that under such worrying circumstances she could only stress the importance of her husband's re-election: "He's good," she said. "He has experience and courage."

Once again she surprised the French public during the election campaign with her assertion that "we are modest people," cementing this claim to being ordinary by appearing in public less than impeccably coiffed, even a tad sloppy on occasion and, after the birth of her daughter, demonstratively showing off some remaining post-natal pudginess.

As the campaign wore on, and polls were suggesting she wasn't gaining in popularity, Bruni-Sarkozy began to fear more and more that her days as the République's Decorative Element might be reaching an end. This week's Le Point magazine features a phone interview it held with the First Lady a few days before the first round of voting last month.

In a "quiet voice," Bruni-Sarkozy stated that she knew that "the media want the other candidate to win, but I believe we'll win anyway -- and this will demonstrate how estranged you the media are from the French people."

Then, half-jokingly, she added: "You must realize that if my husband loses and the other candidate wins you won't have anything to write about? What will you possibly say? You're going to have to come up with something." It was more than a hint that a certain amount of journalistic creativity would be called for to find something interesting to say about "the other candidate."

And now Carla Bruni is the one who's going to "have to come up with something" – and whether she can return to her old pursuits remains to be seen.

Next autumn, her first record in four years will be released. Ten years after the spectacular success of her first album "Quelqu'un ma dit" (Somebody Told Me), which sold over two million copies, the new record will show whether she can still count on a benevolent fan base.

At the start of her singing career, she was a favorite of the left-leaning Bohème crowd in Paris Saint-Germain. Her chansons provided a pleasant musical background for intellectuals as they smoked at Left Bank café terraces. But her marriage to their arch-enemy may well have wiped out that old fan base.

Music critic Bertrand Dicale believes that, with Bruni-Sarkozy's old fans feeling "betrayed," and her not having created a new base, a comeback might prove to be very difficult. "Carla Bruni-Sarkozy will find it very hard to exist as an artist," he says. "There will be a tendency to confuse the political person with the singer."

Early retirement?

Louis Bertignac, former guitarist with the rock band Téléphone who worked with Bruni on her first album, says he fears that the fans "could hold the fact that she was First Lady against her." But that would be "silly," he said. "She has genuine songwriting talent; she proved that with her first album. If I were her, I'd continue writing songs."

Bruni-Sarkozy's spokesperson and former manager Véronique Rampazzo, with whom she has worked for over 20 years, pooh-poohs talk of Bruni's career coming to an end: "She didn't stop during Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency, she kept on composing, and if she didn't give any concerts it was for purely pragmatic reasons. She will start giving concerts again now."

Her acting career, which basically consists of a cameo in Woody Allen‘s "Midnight in Paris," appears to be on the back burner for the time being although there are rumors that she is to appear in the new movie her sister, actress and director Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, is filming. Rampazzo, however, told the "Nouvel Observateur" magazine that there was no truth whatsoever to the rumor.

Starting next week, Bruni-Sarkozy should have some time to think about her future career. After turning over the keys to the Elysée Palace on May 15, she, her husband, and their nine-month old daughter Giulia are headed for the Bruni summer home at Cap Nègre on the Côte d'Azur for a holiday.

Read the article in German in Die Welt.

Photo- Fondation Carla Bruni-Sarkozy

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