'Can this be how French lovers woo women?" my British friends ask, reading with appalled fascination about Nicolas Sarkozy's speedy dinner conquest (four hours over drinks, dinner, café and petits-fours) of Carla Bruni at the house of spin doctor Jacques Séguéla a little over a year ago. Bruni and Sarkozy then kissed; Séguéla told in his book, Autobiographie non autorisée, published yesterday.
The French know the tale already – the dinner party at which Sarkozy, barely weeks after his divorce from second wife Cécilia, had eyes only for his blind date. (Besides, Séguéla, who recently predicted that Sarkozy would never fire Rachida Dati "because she's the only star in the Cabinet", is, at 75, less than an irrefutable authority.) Everywhere other than in France, it seems, they are shocked.
"But it's so trite. So clichéd. So…" So successful?
"We expected poetry! Philosophy! Literary allusions! Panache! Not sniping about Mick Jagger's bony calves!" Sarkozy even had the class to lean over and whisper in Bruni's ear, "Bet you don't have the nerve right now in front of everyone to kiss me on the mouth".
Not that I can guarantee all Frenchmen in a romantic mood will spout snatches of Derrida and Baudelaire over a glass of Phélan-Ségur, but it's worth remembering at this stage that Sarkozy is an atypical president. He talks bluntly, he pounces on his objectives, regardless of collateral hurt feelings and he gets what he wants.
No one in France was particularly surprised to learn that this was also his romantic modus operandi.
For those taken aback by Sarko's demeanour, it's worth bearing in mind the general servility of the French in a court-type situation – the president, or the CEO, like King Louis XIV, is given free rein to behave as he wishes. At the Séguélas, the other six guests just sat back, piped down, and watched the Sarko and Carla show.
Your traditional French lover believes he is making an incomparable gift of himself when he pays attention to a lucky female. The natty suits, the sophisticated conversation, all this is part of the image; a pretty girl is merely the ultimate accessory. However, this doesn't apply to Sarkozy, who has nurtured feelings of inadequacy all his life, and compensated accordingly.
He was short, he had a foreign-sounding name, he was the son of a divorced mother and lived with his two brothers in comparatively shabby-genteel conditions in Paris's poshest suburb, Neuilly. His estranged Hungarian father told him he had no future in politics in France. Now look at him: he became mayor of Neuilly at 28, and president of France at 52. He's had innumerable girlfriends and been married three times. He does not drink, does not smoke (except the occasional cigar), runs every morning, and exhausts a crew of aides who're mostly 20 years his juniors. Sarko may come across in politics as over-confident, but he is still driven – Woody Allen with a success compulsion.
Now engineer a meeting with Carla Bruni, a kind of Liz Hurley with class, and watch the sparks fly. They were each other's dream – Sarko the ultimate bag for a big-game huntress; Bruni the woman too beautiful for a president who is still trying to prove himself. It's Sarko's sincerity, more than his words, which got to La Bruni. When he told her "We'll do better than Marilyn and Kennedy" (note the order), he did not think of adulterous liaisons, a pills overdose, minders cleaning out the suicide house in the small hours; but of eternal youth and legendary fame.
In many ways, Sarkozy has an overarching, Caesarean view of destiny. In love, as in politics, he believes victory trumps style. Perhaps his private life shows us that in a Sarkozy world, victory is style.
© Copyright Telegraph Media Group & Anne-Elisabeth Moutet 2009