Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 29 July 2015

Berlusconi's humour cuts no ice with Carla Bruni

Whatever its humorous intention, Silvio's remark was excruciatingly embarrassing

By Peter Popham

Published 11/11/2008 | 00:33

Carla Bruni with French President Nicolas Sarkozy
Carla Bruni with French President Nicolas Sarkozy
France's first lady Carla Sarkozy née Bruni

She may be far too rich, beautiful, talented and lucky, but in the eyes of many Italians Carla Bruni did much to make up for her excess of blessings over the weekend when she said she was happy to no longer be Italian.

Why should such a remark please any Italian? Because it came in the context of Silvio Berlusconi's now notorious crack about Barack Obama being "well tanned".

"When I heard Silvio Berlusconi joke describing Barack Obama as 'tanned', it made me feel strange," she told Journal de Dimanche. "Some people will no doubt put it down to humour, but sometimes I'm very happy that I became French!"

What her remark underlines is that, whatever its humorous intention, the "tanned" remark was excruciatingly embarrassing. Here we have the most inspirational leader to emerge in the West for 40 years, and Italy's prime minister greets him with a crack about his skin colour. One had the impression of an entire nation, or at least the 40 per cent who voted for the other side, curling their toes, looking for somewhere to hide in shame.

That Berlusconi thought he was being funny when he was just being weird is nothing new: the same applies to most of his earlier, world-famous battutte (jokes), such as when he proposed Danish Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen as a suitable lover for his own wife.

But what had even his supporters rattled was the timing. To tease the Danish PM is one thing; to crudely draw attention to the race of the most powerful man in the world, on the day when all your peers are paying homage, looks like true folly. It makes one wonder what might lie behind it.

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