Cecilia, the reluctant first lady

19th October 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS (AFP) - Cecilia Sarkozy is an elegant, enigmatic and determined character who rejected from the outset the role of conventional first lady.

PARIS (AFP) - Cecilia Sarkozy is an elegant, enigmatic and determined character who rejected from the outset the role of conventional first lady.

She had already run away from her husband once before the permanent split that the French head of state announced Thursday.

The tone for the relationship was set on the day of Nicolas Sarkozy's election triumph in May. Cecilia did not even cast a vote for her husband. Since then her few public appearances were dogged either by gossip or by controversy.

She was conspicuously absent from the day-to-day Elysee routine, and in early October set tongues wagging when she failed to accompany Sarkozy on a trip to Bulgaria.

Though friends insisted the relationship was not under strain, speculation mounted that Cecilia, 50 next month, was unhappy in her life as presidential consort, and that their second separation could be in the offing.

The couple have had a famously tempestuous relationship, and Sarkozy, who is 52, made no secret of his emotional dependency on the former model and communications executive.

In his 2006 autobiography, he wrote that "even today, 20 years after our first meeting, saying her name affects me ... She is a part of me."

They first met in 1984 when Sarkozy -- then mayor of the Paris suburb of Neuilly -- officiated at her wedding to television presenter Jacques Martin. The story goes that he vowed there and then to marry her one day.

Born in 1957 to a Jewish furrier and a Spanish ambassador's daughter (her great-grandfather was the Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz), Cecilia studied law in Paris before working in a succession of jobs in communications and as a model. She was beautiful and well-connected.

Twelve years after their first meeting, both now divorced with two children, she and Sarkozy married and in 1997 had a child of their own, Louis.

Cecilia played a key support role in Sarkozy's political rise, acting as his advisor when he was leader of the ruling conservative UMP party and when he was a tough and outspoken interior minister.

With Sarkozy in government, Cecilia drew criticism when she worked as his adviser at the interior ministry. Then in 2005 she suddenly disappeared from view, and it was revealed she had run away to New York with an advertising executive.

A few months later they were reconciled, but Sarkozy said that the experience left him "profoundly shaken". "Even today I find I hard to talk about it. Never have I been through such an ordeal," he said.

The prospect of Sarkozy's presidency raised questions over how his wife would see her life at the Elysee palace, especially after she told a newspaper that she did not see herself as a first lady. "It bores me ... I don't fit the mould."

Sarkozy insisted she would "play a role", but there was no clear decision what it would be.

Her one experience in a semi-official capacity appeared to embitter her against a possible life as Sarkozy's personal envoy for humanitarian causes.

Sent to Libya in July, she helped negotiate the release of Bulgarian nurses who were accused of infecting children with AIDS. Despite the mission's success, she was accused of usurping the work of government ministers and there were demands for her appearance before a committee of inquiry.

She never moved into the Elysee palace, preferring the couple's Neuilly apartment or the prime minister's official country residence in the grounds of Versailles palace. Her last public appearance was on September 20, when in dark glasses she attended the funeral of her first husband.

Recently she has been spotted in Geneva and London.

The French public watched the ups-and-downs of the Sarkozy couple with fascination, though the country's strict privacy laws meant that little was reported of their marital difficulties. Many expressed sympathy with Cecilia's independent spirit, though others find her co

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