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September 20, 2010
Posted: 2353 GMT

The French first lady is one of the most talked about women in the world. Her past as a supermodel, her reputation as a man-eater and now, reincarnated as the demure third wife of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, she has become the subject of intense global media fascination.

We waited for Mrs Sarkozy at the French United Nations mission in New York City. She appeared on the threshold of the interview room – on time – in a black Audrey Hepburn style dress, walked briskly toward me and, wide-eyed, introduced herself.

“Hello, I’m Carla!”

Mr and Mrs Sarkozy are in town on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. The French president gave a speech and Carla Bruni spent some time speaking in her role as ambassador to the Global Fund to fight AIDS.

We would speak about her humanitarian work and, of course, bring up the controversy stirred up by two explosive biographies published in France last week. But seconds before sitting down, and to our surprise, she insisted on being interviewed with the Fund’s head, Michel Kazatchkine.

“It either happens with him,” she tells me with a smile, “or it doesn’t happen.”

As our team hurriedly reorganized chairs and lighting to accommodate a second interviewee, Bruni’s mobile phone rings.

“Oui mon amour,” she answers in a velvety voice. “I’m just doing CNN and I’m done.”

I’ve seen images and heard Carla Bruni’s voice for two decades. (Full disclosure: I love her songs, music and lyrics and listen to her albums regularly). So it wasn’t without great curiosity that I prepared for our interview.

Why is the fight against AIDS and malaria dear to her?

“To me, it’s important to do something while I stand by my husband while he’s the president of France,” she tells me, “Little by little I thought maybe I could bring some attention to the work that the Global Fund does.”

And boy does attention follow Carla Bruni wherever she goes.

The two Carla Bruni books have only added to the worldwide interest in the former model.

In “Carla And The Ambitious” (the title makes much more sense in French, to be fair), Carla Bruni allegedly said U.S. First lady Michelle Obama told her White House life was “hell.”

Is it true?

“Of course Michelle Obama never said such a thing,” Bruni answers. “Not one book that has come out about me was authorized. But of course, I live in France and France is a free country where anyone can fantasize and publish it.”

What about those much more damaging allegations in the book that Carla Bruni-Sarkozy used secret French police files to uncover a plot to oust her or to find out who was leaking damaging rumors about her?

“I’m happy to disassociate myself not only form this book but from all books,” she says. Bruni added said she could technically take legal action, but that she considers that an “undemocratic” move and that she never does it “by principle.”

Before the interview, the New York bureau called me to say there was new video of Carla and Nicolas Sarkozy cuddling and hugging on a United Nations escalator.

I asked her about her very public display of affection for her husband, whose popularity in France has plummeted and who’s facing ferocious criticism for his pension reform plans and France’s expulsion of Roma gypsies.

Bruni puts her index finger on her lips, as if to say “Shhh, I’m embarrassed!” but then readily answers:

“We just met! We are brand new spouses. It’s been three years. And of course all this pressure that he has on his shoulders brings us even closer.”

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