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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 October 2007, 16:12 GMT 17:12 UK
Profile: Cecilia Sarkozy
Cecilia Sarkozy
Mrs Sarkozy never wanted to be a "traditional" First Lady

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Cecilia, are hardly a conventional French political couple.

They have been married for 11 years and have a son. But they separated briefly in 2005 and Mrs Sarkozy's public absences during her husband's presidential election campaign were much remarked upon.

Since assuming the role of First Lady, Mrs Sarkozy has made the news on a number of occasions, most notably when she turned down a lunch invitation from US President George Bush because of a sore throat, only to be spotted shopping the next day.

'Struck by lightning'

Cecilia Maria Sara Isabel Ciganer-Albeniz was born in Paris to a pianist father of Russian origins and a Spanish mother. A law student and parliamentary aide as well as a model, she was first married at the age of 27 to 51-year-old children's TV presenter Jacques Martin at the town hall of the chic Paris suburb of Neuilly in 1984.

The man who performed their marriage ceremony was a certain Nicolas Sarkozy, then the 29-year old mayor of the suburb.

She had two daughters with Mr Martin, Judith (now 23) and Jeanne-Marie (20), but in 1987, she met Mr Sarkozy again and he was apparently "struck by lightning" as he fell in love with her and she with him.

The two left their respective spouses for each other, finally marrying in 1996 and playing out much of their subsequent relationship in the media spotlight.

In April 1997 she gave birth to their son, Louis.

I don't see myself as first lady - the whole idea bores me
Cecilia Sarkozy
Interviewed in March 2005

Cecilia and the children often appeared in magazine photo-shoots with Nicolas Sarkozy, portraying a happy family life, with Paris Match showing the couple holding hands and enjoying a walk in the park on a weekend trip to London.

For a long time she was one of her husband's closest political advisers. When he was minister of the interior from 2003, her office was next to his and she was known as a decisive and calming influence on Mr Sarkozy behind the scenes.

However, the couple had a well-publicised split when Cecilia left Mr Sarkozy in May 2005 for several months for the international communications consultant, Richard Attias, confiding to friends that she had had enough of being treated like "part of the furniture".

At first, rumours of the split were confined to the internet, and spread between Paris-based journalists.

But when Paris Match published a series of photos of Cecilia with her lover in New York, the secret came out, much to Mr Sarkozy's fury.

Rapprochement

Happily for relations between the French media and their new president, Cecilia returned to Mr Sarkozy's side a few months later, in January 2006. Only a few newspapers had reported his affair - during her absence - with a French political journalist.

The rapprochement seemed to be permanent.

In his book Testimony, Mr Sarkozy wrote last year: "Today, Cecilia and I are reunited for good, for real, doubtless for ever... We are not able and do not know how to separate from each other."

Then came the controversy surrounding her absences during the presidential election campaign.

She was with Mr Sarkozy as he claimed victory in his speech to cheering supporters on Place de la Concorde on the evening of 6 May.

Nicolas and Cecilia Sarkozy vote together on 22 April during the first round of voting  in the French presidential election.
The Sarkozys appeared together early on in the election

But she was not with him earlier on Sunday afternoon when he went to vote, even though both of her daughters were at his side.

Cecilia was also noticeably absent for most of the final weeks of his winning campaign, even as President Chirac's wife Bernadette turned up to give her support at Mr Sarkozy's final rally in Montpellier.

Mr Sarkozy explained Cecilia's absence on the campaign trail as a deliberate strategy to take his family out of the relentless glare of the media.

Subsequent media coverage suggested that Cecilia was still involved in her husband's life.

Paris Match published a picture of the couple kissing on its front cover.

"Cecilia shares in his victory," read a sub-heading, followed by several pages of photographs of the presidential pair together on the night of his victory, along with Cecilia's two daughters from her previous marriage and Nicolas Sarkozy's two sons from his first marriage.

Cecilia was also back at his side, along with their son, as the new president sunned himself on a billionaire's yacht off Malta for a few days after the election.

But she has never been eager to adopt the traditional role of first lady. She went on the record in March 2005 saying she has always been keen to preserve her independence.

"I don't see myself as first lady - the whole idea bores me, " she said.

Since Mr Sarkozy became president, she has certainly demonstrated her unwillingness to act like a traditional first lady.

In August she raised eyebrows when, citing a sore throat, she turned down an invitation to a picnic with President Bush and his family, only to be seen shopping on the days before and after the event.

And she also made headlines when she visited Libya in July on a mission to secure the release of five Bulgarian nurses who had been sentenced to death for allegedly infecting children with HIV.

The nurses were released soon after Mrs Sarkozy's visit, but questions were subsequently raised about what had been offered to the Libyans in return for the nurses' release, and whether Mrs Sarkozy should have been given any authority to negotiate with the Libyan government.

Mrs Sarkozy insisted that she had offered nothing in return for the nurses' release except humanitarian assistance.

She had gone there as a "woman, as a mother, without really dwelling on the complexity of international relations", she said.

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