In the British press, Carla Bruni, the model-turned-singer and first lady of France, upstaged efforts by her husband, President Nicolas Sarkozy, to woo their hosts in London.
French First Lady More Than Tames British Press
LONDON — Was she the new Kennedy-Onassis or a reborn Diana? With her flat Dior pumps and calf-length gray overcoat, was she a high school student on vacation, or, as one columnist asked, “Jackie O dressed as a nun”?
After appearances with members of the British royal family, in Parliament and at a state dinner — with different Christian Dior outfits for each — Carla Bruni, the 40-year-old model-turned-singer and first lady of France emerged Thursday as the star of the visit, supplanting affairs of state with an affaire d’amour among British newspaper reporters wistfully competing for the fondest paean of praise.
If her husband, President Nicolas Sarkozy, had come here to woo his British hosts with a flattering speech to Parliament — compared by one writer to a “torrent of crème Chantilly sprayed from a high-pressure hose” — then his wife’s slender frame and twinkling eyes upstaged his effort to achieve gravitas.
“Nicolas Sarkozy’s seduction of the British started yesterday at 11:26 a.m. when his plane landed at Heathrow,” Andrew Gimson wrote for Thursday’s Daily Telegraph. “He brought with him his latest conquest, Carla Bruni, and many of us decided at once that if we were going to be seduced by anyone, we would rather be seduced by her.”
The overnight visit — with a stay under one of Queen Elizabeth’s many roofs at Windsor Castle — was intended in part to draw France and Britain much closer after centuries of seesawing relationships.
Indeed, Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, said Thursday that he wanted to update the 104-year-old “Entente Cordiale” between the countries with an “Entente Formidable.”
But if anyone was going to manage that, it seemed to be Ms. Bruni, who spent Thursday visiting with the prime minister’s wife, Sarah, at a charity lunch, while their spouses visited the Emirates soccer stadium in north London, home to the Arsenal club, whose manager and some of whose top players are French.
The new romance began to bud within seconds of her arrival.
As she stepped from the plane on Wednesday, a gallant Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, took her gloved hand and raised it to his lips. “Enchanté,” the tabloid The Sun had him saying in a photo doctored with cartoon bubbles of imagined conversation that showed Charles’s wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, murmuring, “Easy, tiger.”
Then Ms. Bruni was photographed beaming with Prince Philip, the queen’s husband, as Mr. Sarkozy looked on uneasily.
Among columnists, royal-watchers and exponents of hyperbole, it was a race for the most cloying of verbal cotton candy. Amanda Platell of The Daily Mail struck a more skeptical note, describing Ms. Bruni’s curtsey to the queen as the most calculated act of homage to a British monarch since Anne Boleyn bowed to Henry VIII.
The fuss over Ms. Bruni could not cloak fissures in what was choreographed as a bonding between the nations, with the sharpest distinction in their responses to China’s crackdown on unrest among Tibetans. Mr. Brown insisted that Britain would not boycott the opening ceremonies of this summer’s Beijing Olympics. But Mr. Sarkozy said he would “reserve the right to say whether I will attend.”