By Hugh Schofield
BBC News, Paris
The French have been allowed an unprecedented glimpse behind the scenes at the Elysee Palace, thanks to a British-made television documentary about the life and musical career of the first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.
Film-maker George Scott had arranged with the model-turned-singer to follow her during the making of her latest album Comme si de rien n'était (As if nothing happened).
But their agreement pre-dated Ms Bruni's liaison with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and Mr Scott was stunned when he was allowed to continue despite her radically altered circumstances.
The result - Somebody Told Me About... Carla Bruni - was shown on French public television at a surprisingly late hour on Thursday night.
The flattering 75-minute personal portrait was peppered with tributes from friends, family and fellow musicians.
President Sarkozy made a brief appearance, arriving apparently unannounced as his wife performed at her home in the 16th arrondissement (district) of Paris.
Marriage has helped her public image, Ms Bruni says
He nuzzled her neck for an almost awkwardly long time before shaking hands with the camera crew.
He was then caught listening from a French window, as Ms Bruni played L'Amoureuse (The Lover) - a composition inspired by their affair.
"He is very protective towards me. It's not because he's president that he's protective. I'd say it's the other way round - he is president because he has this urge to be protective towards others," Ms Bruni said.
Ms Bruni met Mr Sarkozy in late 2007, at a dinner party given by a well-known advertising executive.
At first their whirlwind romance drew much adverse comment, but the nation has since rallied behind them.
"I was very much surprised how much it calmed things down after we were married in February. I realised that symbolically people find it hard to accept a president who is not married, but who has girlfriends and goes out on dates," said Ms Bruni.
The film - which will be shown in Britain later this year - traces Ms Bruni's childhood years from Turin to the cliff-top villa on the French Riviera where her family moved in the early 1970s.
Her father was a wealthy industrialist-cum-musician who feared the campaign of kidnappings being carried out at the time by the far-left Red Brigades in Italy.
Her mother - a concert pianist - later revealed that Alberto Bruni Tedeschi was not her biological father.
"It didn't trouble me at all. In fact it gave me balance. I think that children feel better with the truth - whatever it is. So I just felt more stable... It was a relief," Ms Bruni revealed.
Ms Bruni worked for several years as a super-model, earning accolades from British clothes designer John Galliano who described her in the film as being "like a silent movie actress with her body language - the dress is her script".
After giving up modelling in 1997, Ms Bruni moved into song and has since released three albums. The first, Quelqu'un m'a dit (Someone told me) sold some two million copies.
According to the French singer Julien Clerc: "She marked the return of a certain kind of French chanson that people thought had gone for good - the girl with the guitar and the long hair. It's a simple music, unpretentious."
The documentary showed Ms Bruni performing and recording a selection of songs - including Salut Marin (Ahoy Sailor) dedicated to her brother Vergilio, who died in 2006.
She conducted the camera around the gardens of the Elysee palace, introduced her dog Toumi at the family villa at Cap Negre, and gave a series of interviews in French and English.
The model-turned-singer says she was "paralysed by shyness" as a child
Ms Bruni described herself as being essentially a timid person, and admitted that it was odd that in her careers she has constantly sought to be looked at and admired.
"As a child I was paralysed by shyness. And yet I have conducted my life... constantly in the public eye, over-exposed.
"Perhaps it is because in life we seek out subconsciously the things that are hardest for us. Perhaps these contradictions are important to humans. They give structure to our existence," she said.
"I take being first lady very seriously indeed. I am honoured by the position, and I hope I am up to it," she said.
"It is a huge opportunity for any human being. I have led a life that is essentially egotistical. But what interest me really are other issues: inequality, injustice, poverty, illness, ignorance.
"Yes, I feel guilty when I look at the privileges I have enjoyed. But guilt is a negative, useless emotion.
"Ever since I was small, I have said to myself that I am an extremely lucky person, that I must make the most of it, and that I must help others make the most of it too."