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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 March 2008, 19:42 GMT
French glamour meets British pomp
By Lucy Rodgers
BBC News, Windsor

President Nicolas Sarkozy and the Queen
President Nicolas Sarkozy waved to the crowds

French glamour was greeted with great British pomp and ceremony as President Nicolas Sarkozy and his new wife, Carla Bruni, arrived in Windsor at the start of their whirlwind state visit.

The couple, taking part in their most high-profile engagement together to date, were treated to an arrival rich in pageantry in the historic town, home to Windsor Castle.

After a brief welcoming ceremony with the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and other dignitaries, the French guests were whisked in horse-drawn ceremonial carriages, accompanied by the Household Cavalry, through Windsor's narrow streets, waving to the waiting public.

Modest dress

A modest crowd of hundreds watched as the procession passed - first there was the Queen, dressed in a beige suit and feathered hat, and dark-suited Mr Sarkozy in the Australian state coach.

They were followed by Prince Philip and Mrs Sarkozy - in high-necked grey coat and matching hat - in the Scottish state coach.

Then came the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall in the Semi State Landau, who received cheers from the crowd for braving the wind and gloomy weather in an open carriage.

Baljinder Singh and grandchildren Sukjot Singh and Sukleen Kaur
I don't know much about Mr Sarkozy
Baljinder Singh

Finally, came two coaches of French government ministers, including the elegant women dubbed by the French press as "Sarko's babes".

Due to the high-profile nature of the 36-hour visit, security was in evidence throughout the procession, with French and British security officers in dark suits scouring the crowds, while large numbers of uniformed police also mingled with onlookers.

Mary Tanner was shutting The Old Tea Rooms along the procession route just before the town's French guests arrived to ensure she got a good view.

"I always have a look when there is something on," she said. "I shut up shop and I will go and get some flags to wave."

'Love the Queen'

John Emms and his wife, Audrey, from Egham, Surrey, are regular visitors to royal events at Windsor and managed to find a good spot near the start of the route.

"We are great fans of royalty," said Mr Emms, who had been reading about Mr Sarkozy in the papers.

But he added: "We are really interested to see Carla."

Didier and Diane Dietrich
Some say he [Mr Sarkozy] is not doing politics - we see more of him in magazines
Didier and Diane Dietrich

Also waiting for a glimpse of the royal and presidential party was Baljinder Singh, from nearby Slough, who arrived early to ensure his two three-year-old grandchildren, Sukjot Singh and Sukleen Kaur, could get a good view.

"They love to see the Queen," he said. "I don't know much about Mr Sarkozy though."

There were many of those watching, however, who did have strong opinions about France's head of state.

The diminutive Mr Sarkozy, 53, who has been dubbed the King of Bling in his home country due to his love of expensive watches, designer sunglasses and celebrity lifestyle, has been accused by critics of lacking dignity and having contempt for tradition.

But he is expected to use his first state visit to the UK to project a more statesmanlike image in an attempt to repair battered poll ratings following his marriage to Ms Bruni.

'Let down'

Didier Dietrich and his wife Diane, from Geneva, who had stumbled upon the preparations for the French president's arrival while visiting Windsor Castle, were rather circumspect about whether Mr Sarkozy could turn around his fortunes with such a trip.

"At the beginning the French people had high hopes for the president," said Mrs Dietrich. "But some say he is not doing politics - we see more of him in magazines."

"It's not the right decision," added Mr Dietrich, who is half-French and half-Swiss. "He should have proved himself and his promises and therefore now we have to judge him for the fact."

Prince Philip and Carla Bruni
Prince Philip and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy travelled together

However, Mr Sarkozy's visit to the UK was important, he said.

Someone else who knows about how the president is viewed in France is Sonia Doyotte, a French teacher from Windsor Boys' School, who was watching proceedings with some of her students.

"People love him or hate him," she said. "It is about 50/50 in France. He is working to change a lot of things there - but you know France is what we call 'an old grandmother' - it is difficult to change."

About his glamorous lifestyle and love of fashion and holidays, she admitted "the French love it, it's the gossip".

But when asked whether she believed Mr Sarkozy would succeed in changing his image, she said: "No, I don't think so."

"Sarkozy is Sarkozy," shouted another French woman in the crowd, perhaps indicating he would not be able to change his individual take on the presidential role.

But for many others who had headed to Windsor, it was the new 40-year-old French First Lady - a model-turned-singer - that was the biggest draw of the day.

"I've come to see Sarkozy, the boys have come to see Carla," laughed Ms Doyotte.

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