Nicolas Sarkozy Is "Ridiculous, Badly Behaved & Not Fit To Be President" - Ex-Wife
For the French President, it was hardly the endorsement he had been looking for.
As Nicolas Sarkozy grew ever more publicly vocal this week in his protestations of love for model Carla Bruni his former wife delivered her own, damning, verdict.
Sarkozy is "ridiculous, badly behaved and not fit to be president" Cecilia Sarkozy says in a new book, adding for good measure that the women in his life are just a 'bunch of slappers' (or des petasses fardees, as the French would have it).
Even the president's female political colleagues do not escape her barbed tongue: they are just "boring wallflowers, and now that there is no First Lady, he needs to surround himself with pretty young things dressed in Dior".
It has taken just a few short weeks for the revenge of Cecilia to begin.
Sarkozy, 52, began dating Bruni, 40, just one month after his divorce from Cecilia following a 12-year marriage and his election last May as France's new president.
Now it is Carla who stays with the president at the Elysee Palace and has been given a £10,000 ring - embarrassingly similar to one he once bought Cecilia.
Her highly damaging remarks about her former husband come in a biography of her by French journalist Anna Bitton. But Cecilia is now trying to prevent publication on the basis that the conversations she had with Bitton were private and, she says, not for publication.
Bitton rejects this and adds her own verdict on Cecilia, whom she describes as an "ice-cold, blue-blooded empress' and a 'poor little rich girl who is addicted to shopping".
So the French are treated to an embarrassing farce being played out at the highest levels. The ex-model and ex-wife damns the ex-model soontobe new wife while the president rushes around like a love- sick teenager.
He's been president less than a year and already three books and a deluge of magazine articles have been devoted to his love life.
It is not at all what the French expect from their head of state. As one Paris-based friend of mine remarked, Sarkozy has "betrayed the national code of honour".
Despite its sybaritic image, France is a fundamentally provincial country which respects social order and prefers affairs to be secret - a situation helped by draconian privacy laws.
"Sarkozy has opened the curtains on a country which was happily eating cheese and climbing up the backstairs to visit mistresses," says my friend gloomily. "France likes hypocrisy. It does not like sexual openness. We are not Italy."
Sarkozy, of course, has a different interpretation. "I broke with a deplorable tradition in our country, that of hypocrisy and lies," he said yesterday.
"With Carla, we decided not to lie. We don't want to hide."
So are we witnessing an enormous cultural shift in France or a president who has taken leave of his senses?
Sarkozy was shattered by Cecilia's decision to leave him weeks into his presidency. He worshipped this beautiful, highly strung woman, introducing her to the world as a modern-day Jackie Kennedy.
Indeed, after their divorce in October, Sarkozy was secretly admitted to hospital, suffering from a stress-related throat abscess and a fever. He called pitifully for his wife to visit him. Cecilia came but would not return to her husband. She is believed instead to have taken up with her old love, the Moroccan-born PR executive Richard Attias.
Then, last November Sarkozy met Carla (often referred to as 'The Maneater') at a private dinner. Within weeks, he was said to have proposed to her before whisking her off to Egypt and Jordan in a friend's private jet.
On Tuesday, he arrived back from his holiday to tell the nation that this was a "serious relationship" and to hint that a wedding was imminent.
His behaviour - cancelling meetings, housing his new lover in the Elysee Palace with her own music room and telling the world that he is in love - is upsetting Sarkozy's political colleagues.
The Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, reportedly complains: "When you talk to the president he doesn't always listen. He cancels meetings, which is not like him. I wonder how this is going to end."
The French public have their suspicions, and his personal popularity is plummeting, not helped by the fact that Carla's past conquests include Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and Donald Trump.
Laetitia Cash, who is a well known figure in Euro society and a prospective Tory MP, fears that Bruni could become the president's nemesis.
"Is she going to knuckle down to being a First Lady or will she be indulged like a kind of Marie Antoinette? The French expect women to have their place, they will not want someone who is an emotional drain on the president."
Unfortunately the phrase "low maintenance" does not apply to Bruni. Even in her modelling days, her privileged background - she is the step-daughter of an industrialist in Turin - was apparent to everyone.
"It was always clear that she didn't have to be doing this," says one fashion editor who worked with her. "Carla was perfectly professional but if she was tired or bored, then everyone knew about it."
Her tastes were never cut-price. At the end of one fashion shoot she was asked if she would like to keep any of the skimpy pieces of fabric she had been wearing. She chose instead a full-length fur coat.
Sarkozy, on the other hand, has rather ascetic tastes. Aides say that he is not interested in food, he barely drinks and is a workaholic.
Yet he borrowed a private plane from a rich friend to fly Bruni to Egypt and is buying her wildly expensive jewellery. It is almost like watching Dodi Fayed woo Princess Diana.
Those who know Bruni say that she needs to be indulged and entertained. She also has no intention of playing second fiddle.
"She likes always to be the centre of attention," says a French acquaintance of hers.
But she has already made some concessions to her partner. She is taller than he is, 5ft 9in to his 5ft 5in, and now appears only in flat shoes. Sarkozy wears his two-inch stacked heel formal leather shoes, however casually he is dressed.
The title of 'Maneater' was bestowed on Bruni after a very Left Bank entanglement during which she fell in love with the son of her boyfriend.
The son, a philosophy professor called Raphael Enthoven, left his wife, Justine Levy. Justine immediately wrote a best-selling novel about a husband stealer - "beautiful and bionic with the eyes of a killer".
Bruni retorted grandly: "I'd prefer to be described as a predator than an old hag." Bruni had a son by Enthoven but they later separated. To be fair, Carla has hardly been hunting the president. His pursuit of her has been relentless and frantic.
There are two theories about this. The first is that he has simply fallen head over heels in love with her and needs a First Lady for his state visits - including, intriguingly, a forthcoming stay at Windsor Castle with the Queen in March.
The second, for which there is much evidence, is that poor Sarkozy is still obsessed by his unfaithful ex-wife and that Bruni is a trophy replacement paraded to get his own back on her.
Bruni has the same high cheekbones and cat-like eyes as Cecilia. Worryingly, she has the same characteristics of impetuosity, wilfulness and disregard for convention.
Some political commentators claim that Sarkozy is a man of action and that he is sorely in need of a First Lady. A source from Sarkozy's political party, the UMP (Union for Popular Movement), says: "A new wife is his primary concern."
Sarkozy was disappointed that the Pope declined to receive him with his new girlfriend. Under Vatican protocol it was deemed "inappropriate" for a head of state to meet the pontiff on an official visit, accompanied by a girlfriend.
Meanwhile, the Indian government, which is receiving Sarkozy as a guest of honour at the Republic Day Parade in New Delhi on January 24, has released a half-hearted statement, saying: "It is for the French to decide whether Miss Bruni should be treated as First Lady or not."
It will be fascinating to see what happens when Sarkozy arrives in Britain for the state visit in March. Since the Entente Cordiale - the end of centuries of war between Britain and France - was signed in 1904 every French leader on a state visit has been accompanied by a First Lady.
Yet some question whether the romance will last even that long. If you believe that Sarkozy is still in a battle with his last wife, the Bruni romance has an air of doom about it.
The marriage between Sarkozy and Cecilia was about as peaceful as those between Richard Burton and Liz Taylor, if you believe the biographies out this week.
According to Ruptures, by Yves Derai and Michael Darmon, Cecilia gave her husband's advisers marks according to their loyalty to her and once said: "All women dream of being in my place and I dream of getting out of here." In Cecilia: The Hidden Face Of The Ex-First Lady, Sarkozy is almost destroyed by his wife.
A UMP source confirms the suffering of the president. "There is absolutely no doubt that divorce forced the president onto a hospital bed," he says.
"He was convinced that his differences with Cecilia could be resolved and that she would become a respected First Lady. He so wanted to make the relationship work. Instead, she left him sad, humiliated and - finally - extremely ill.
"Cecilia came close to destroying him at what should have been the most uplifting time of his life and career. She just didn't seem to care any more, either about him as a person, nor about the presidency. For Nicolas, it was perceived as utter betrayal - something that he will perhaps never get over."
Friends and supporters of Sarkozy are delighted to see him cheerful again and hope that Bruni will bring laughter to the Elysee Palace. After the initial public disdain for her reputation, Bruni's natural supporters - academics, artists, 'beautiful people' - are also speaking up for her.
"After years of stuffy old men running France with faceless old bats in tow, the thought of a sexy model-turned-pop-singer taking centre stage might at least give us a more exciting world image" says one Paris university professor.
It is a high-risk strategy. Sarkozy's ambitions for France have a Napoleonic scale to them. He may remould France through radical social reform - but his love life could destroy him in the process.