April 30, 2009 -- For more than 10 years, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's verbal gaffes have made headlines in Italy and around the world.
The 70-year-old TV magnate and politician is known for his flamboyant ways and Casanova-style manners. Not embarrassed to show that he takes great care of his image, he has admitted to getting a face-lift and hair transplants to keep a youthful appearance.
Despite his behavior landing him frequently in the tabloids, and drawing censure from Britain's Queen Elizabeth, most Italians seem to approve of the man. One notable exception, however, is Veronica Lario, aka Mrs. Berlusconi.
Lario recently went public with her anger after hearing that her husband's political party was planning to nominate a group of buxom TV starlets as candidates in June's European Parliament elections. Writing an e-mail to Italy's ANSA news agency, Lario said, "The impudence and shamelessness of power offends the credibility of all (women), damages women in general and especially those who have always struggled to defend their rights."
"I want to make clear that my children and I are victims and not accomplices in this situation. We must bear it and it causes us to suffer."
Berlusconi shot back saying the reports were made up by members of the opposition and left-wing journalists. When the official list was finally made public, one of the alleged showgirls, a onetime Miss Italy contestant, was included. Candidates for elections in Italy have always come from a varied cross-section of Italian society and in the past have included famous porno-stars, footballers, journalists, magistrates and transsexuals.
In her statement to ANSA, Lario also responded to reports that her husband had attended a late-night birthday party for an 18-year-old female friend in Naples. "It surprised me very much," she said. "Also because he never came to the 18th of any of his children, even though he was invited."
Berlusconi said that he had simply dropped by to "raise a glass" to a "friend's daughter."
Berlusconi and the Mrs. Fighting in Public ... Again
It's not the first time Berlusconi has fallen afoul of his wife. Two years ago, she published a letter to him in an Italian paper. In the letter, she publicly scolded him for his flirtatious behavior and the disrespect it showed toward her and her children. The letter received wide media coverage, and Italians seemed fascinated -- for a while -- with the unexpected glimpse into this couple's private life. Berlusconi was forced to publish a letter of apology.
But do Italians care anymore? Filippo De Angelis, a newspaper seller, shrugged his shoulders and said "bah! This is old stuff. She's done it before. Who cares? Everyone knows those two don't get on."
Marco Guerrieri, an accountant in Rome told ABC News today: " I really haven't followed this stuff. I don't care about it. We've heard it all before. ... Berlusconi is just fueling his populist image. It's all publicity and all done for the media."
On a phone-in program Wednesday on RAIRADIO Tre one woman expressed her incomprehension of Lario's reaction and directed her comment to Lario: "Do what all women should do if treated in this way ... leave him."
Many Italians, including several politicians argued on TV that the couple's public spat had nothing to do with politics and was of no interest to Italians.
Berlusconi is reportedly on his way to Milan today to sort things out with his wife.
In March, he made headlines when a YouTube video surfaced showing Queen Elizabeth apparently complaining about his loud voice during his visit to Buckingham Palace shortly before the G-20 summit. As Berlusconi hollered to get President Obama's attention, the queen appeared to say, "Why does he talk so loud?" in response to his cries of "Mr. Obama, Mr. Obama."
Berlusconi's History of Gaffes
Not content with the publicity he has generated for more than a decade, Berlusconi once sent his biography, in the form of a glossy magazine, to every single family in Italy.
Roberto Benigni, the Oscar-winning actor and director of "La Vita è Bella" (Life Is Beautiful), once said: "[Berlusconi] is someone who always wants to be in on the act. He wants to be everywhere. He wants to be the star. There is a meeting, he talks. He goes to a wedding, he wants to be the bridegroom. He goes to a funeral, he wants to be the deceased."
At the start of Italy's presidency of the Council of the European Union in July 2003, Berlusconi told Martin Schulz, Germany's member of the European Parliament, "I know that in Italy there is a man producing a film on Nazi concentration camps. I shall put you forward for the role of kapo," a concentration camp prisoner chosen for low-level administrative work. "You would be perfect."
During his 2006 electoral campaign, the leader of Italy's right-wing coalition said of left-wing voters, "I trust the intelligence of the Italian people too much to think that there are so many pricks around who would vote against their own best interests."
On the television show "Tg2 Punto di Vista," when a young woman asked him how she was supposed to get a mortgage or start a family without a permanent job, Berlusconi told her, "You should perhaps look to marry a millionaire, like my son, or someone who doesn't have such problems."
"Berlusconi is a serial seducer," Beppe Severgnini, author of "La Bella Figura, a Field Guide to the Italian Mind" and a columnist for Corriere della Sera, a major Italian newspaper, told ABC News.
"He is a worker among workers, and a peasant among peasants," Severgnini continued. "He is just like many average Italians. He jokes, he boasts, he speaks about women all the time. In many Italian typical environments there is someone like him. In every local cafe, you'll meet someone like that."
"He is like an average Italian man, but multiplied by five," he said.
And for now, no matter what the papers say about Berlusconi, Italians seem to like their "average guy multiplied by five" just fine.