The first lady of France, Carla Bruni, can’t wait to meet America’s future first lady, Michelle Obama — and when she does, Bruni will be the one asking for advice.
“She looks like she’s a great, strong intelligent woman,” the wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in New York Wednesday when TODAY’s Matt Lauer asked her what advice she’d have for Michelle Obama. “I must say that she doesn’t look like she [needs] advice … I think it would probably be better for me to be getting advice from her.”
Bruni doesn’t know how soon she’ll get to meet the Obamas, but said, “I’m looking forward to it. I think this is a fantastic American election. The whole world was thrilled about it. France was extremely enthusiastic about the election of Barack Obama.”
Contrasting backgroundsMichelle and Barack Obama met as young lawyers and married in 1992, when she was 28 and he was 31. In contrast, Bruni and Sarkozy met just a year ago, when she was an international star as a model and singer and he was the newly elected president of France. Bruni is 40 and Sarkozy 53 today; both have been married before and both have children from previous marriages.
Because of those differing circumstances, Bruni said, she wouldn’t advise Michelle Obama on the challenges of raising children under the glare of the public spotlight. (The Obamas’ daughters, 10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha, are part of a nuclear family, whereas Bruni’s 7-year-old son, Aurelien, is from a previous relationship, with philosophy professor Raphael Enthoven. She and Enthoven have agreed to keep the boy out of the public eye.)
With her colorful background, Bruni did not receive the immediate embrace from the French public and media that Michelle Obama has enjoyed so far. Bruni has a history of well-publicized relationships with the likes of Mick Jagger, Kevin Costner, Donald Trump, Eric Clapton and former French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius. But when she sparkled during a state visit with her husband to meet the Queen of England, her popularity quickly rose.
“The press can get mad, or sometimes they get very negative, but then the day after they change and they became very kind to me,” Bruni said philosophically. “It’s an honor to be first lady of France. I just try to be good enough.”
The singing first lady
But Bruni was not in New York in her capacity as first lady; instead, she was there to promote her third album, “Comme Si de Rien N'etait" ("As If Nothing Had Happened"), a collection of songs written in a cabaret/folk style. Many are romantic compositions about her numerous former loves, as well as her relationship with Sarkozy.
Bruni admitted it is unusual for a first lady to be off on an album tour. “At the beginning, I got worried that people might take it wrong, because they’re not used to it,” she told Lauer. “Usually first ladies are … supporting their husbands.”
But when Bruni met Sarkozy last November, the songs were already written and needed only to be recorded. “I didn’t want to cancel it,” Bruni said. “Then I thought that maybe for a woman nowadays, it’s important to have a job and to keep it.”
She was almost apologetic, adding, “It’s not that I’m such a feminist.” But if being a feminist means being a strong and independent woman, she meets the description. Bruni was born in Turin, Italy, the youngest of three children of a family that had made its fortune manufacturing tires. Before her father died, he revealed that her real father was a musician with whom her mother had had an affair.
When Bruni was only 5, the family moved to France, reportedly to avoid the threat of being kidnapped by the Red Brigade, an underground group of Italian revolutionaries.
Although the family business was tires, Bruni’s father was an opera composer and her mother an actress and classical pianist. Young Carla learned to play the piano and guitar while she was growing up, and studied architecture and art in Switzerland. At the age of 19, she decided to become a model.
For a dozen years, Bruni was one of the world’s elite supermodels, with some 250 magazine cover credits to her name. Then she moved into music, and now she has released her third album.
Monogamy at last?Lauer asked Bruni if she had to sit down with her husband and explain the relationships she sings about.
“They’re only songs, so they’re not so precise about life,” Bruni replied. “They look like they’re coming from something precise … but it’s not exactly your real life.” In a later segment with Lauer, she maintained that all the love songs are ultimately about Sarkozy anyway.
When Bruni and Sarkozy began their whirlwind courtship, which took them to the altar only three months after they met, the media made much of the distaste for monogamy she had previously expressed.
“I'm monogamous from time to time, but I prefer polygamy and polyandry,” she told one interviewer. To another, she said, “Love lasts a long time, but burning desire — two to three weeks.”
Lauer asked her about those statements. Bruni, dressed in a dark, conservative pantsuit, replied rhetorically, “Did I really say that?”
Then she smiled and decided maybe she had. “Maybe I tried to be funny,” she said. “When you’re lucky enough to give an interview, as a songwriter or a mother, I always tried to make it as a fun moment … so I was talking as a joke.”