'The Carla Effect': France's Fascinating First Lady

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is not your typical first lady. Born into one of the wealthiest families in Italy, she is heir to a tire company fortune, a former supermodel and a singer/songwriter who has had three chart-topping albums in France. She's had high-profile, gossip-worthy relationships with both Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton.

Last February she married French president Nicolas Sarkozy only three months after they met. What other first lady curtsies to the Queen of England on the very day a nude photograph of her -- taken 15 years ago -- is published around the world?

In America, Michelle Obama or Cindy McCain might be crucified for such a colorful history, but if anything the French seem proud of their first lady's unconventional past.

Barbara Walters traveled to Paris to get to know the real Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, whose charm, style and elegance have prompted comparisons to Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Diana. She is fast becoming the symbol of France around the world.

"I must represent France, and I want to be elegant, and I want the French people to be proud of me, you know," Bruni-Sarkozy said.

Love at First Sight

The graceful, well-bred first lady has reportedly helped boost her husband's rough-around-the-edges image and overall approval rating.

She met the French president at a dinner party last year where they were the only single people in the room. They sat next to each other and talked all evening. Bruni-Sarkozy said it was love at first sight.

"I saw him and that was it," she chuckled.

She also said marriage is much better than she ever expected.

"I thought marriage was something very quiet and very regular and very bourgeois," said Bruni-Sarkozy. "But I don't think it is at all, especially with Nicolas. It's full of adventure and full of fun."

Unexpected words from a woman who was quoted several years ago as saying that "monogamy is boring." She now says she was trying to be funny in those interviews, but admits that when she was a young, famous model she could be provocative and was certainly fodder for the press.

'I Don't Feel Ashamed'

Indeed the media did label her as a glamorous seductress. She is accused of breaking up the marriage of French philosopher Raphael Enthoven, with whom she has a son, and the marriage of rocker Mick Jagger and his ex-wife, former model Jerry Hall.

Bruni-Sarkozy denies both claims, explaining that Enthoven was already divorcing when they dated, and stating that "[Mick] had a child with a woman in Brazil so [the divorce] didn't have much to do with me I must say."

Bruni-Sarkozy says she has no regrets. "I don't feel ashamed about my life and what I've done."

"I have a past and I don't think it's shocking, you know? I think it would be shocking for me to pretend not to have any past. And also, it would be a lie," she said.

Controversial Lyrics

In fact, the first lady credits her friendship with various musicians for helping to fuel her longtime passion for music. Her current CD, "As If Nothing Had Happened," is already number one in France, and her first album sold two million copies. (Click here to watch her sing an acoustic version of the song "l'amoureuse.")

"The new album was symbolic for me and my identity," Bruni-Sarkozy said. "I care about writing music and playing my music. I hope that France wouldn't mind the wife of the president having a job."

She sees no contradiction between being a recording artist and being first lady.

"I don't expect people to separate them because I believe that it's impossible," said Bruni-Sarkozy. "What I hope is that if people like it, they like it; and if they don't like it, it doesn't have much to do with my husband, but much more to do with my music."

But some of her lyrics have been controversial particularly because she is married to a head of state. One song has the lyrics, "You are my junk, more deadly than Afghan heroin, more dangerous than Colombian white powder."

Carla explains that the words were a metaphor for how addictive and destructive a passionate love can be. The Colombian government, however, thought it was in poor taste for the wife of the French president to make what it termed as "a painful statement" about their country.

Such missteps, Carla admits, do take some getting used to as she settles into her new role.

"I am afraid of making mistakes," she said. "I'm afraid and shy, you know, I'm observing things and try to hold my place."

If the "Carla Effect," as it's known in Paris, is any indication, then she is holding her place just fine. Bruni-Sarkozy has charmed the French as well as the rest of the world on her state visits and at times upstages her husband.

The singing first lady now hopes to charm America when she releases her album here next week and visits New York in September.

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