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Last Updated: Monday, 4 February 2008, 11:42 GMT
Don't condemn Sarkozy, says Opik
Lembit Opik, flanked by the Cheeky Girls
Lembit Opik, at an event with the Cheeky Girls pop duo
French President Nicolas Sarkozy should not be criticised for his whirlwind marriage to former model Carla Bruni, Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik has said.

Mr Opik, the boyfriend of Cheeky Girls singer Gabriela Irimia, said he had had the "same experience" of being pursued by the paparazzi.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that a "famous or attractive" partner did not dent political effectiveness.

In fact, such relationships could be "inspirational" to the public, he said.

Mr Opik appeared in the celebrity magazine Hello! last year after his relationship with Ms Irimia was revealed.

Mr Sarkozy, who divorced his previous wife in October, married Ms Bruni - now a singer - in Paris at the weekend following a brief romance.

'Snogging Mick Jagger'

Opinion polls suggest this has damaged his popularity in France, which is less used to politicians' personal lives being featured in the media than the UK.

On Today, UK-based French journalist Agnes Poirier said: "We are not very impressed, I must say."

Nicolas Sarkozy with his girlfriend Carla Bruni
Mr Sarkozy and Ms Bruni married in Paris at the weekend

She said the Sarkozy situation was "like Elizabeth II, freshly divorced from Prince Philip, seen snogging in the streets of London with, let's say, Mick Jagger [himself a former partner of the new Mrs Sarkozy], and going on to marry Mick Jagger in Buckingham Palace.

"That would damage the dignity of Great Britain."

But Mr Opik, MP for Montgomeryshire and Lib Dem housing spokesman, said: "I haven't seen a single report in my whole life which indicates that if a politician has a famous and attractive girlfriend or wife that deteriorates that politician's ability to do their job.

"Secondly, let's ask ourselves why are these things so widely reported. It's not because Sarkozy employs the paparazzi to follow him about. It's because the paparazzi and the media think that's an interesting story.

"I've had the same experience with Gabriela. We get followed into restaurants by paparazzi. We get followed down the street. So basically you can't blame Sarkozy for the interest which the media displays towards his relationship with an attractive woman."

'Cynical'

Mr Opik added: "I was told that the press was saying I was seeking publicity and that's why I was going out with Gabriela.

"Well, that was completely not the case. I was being accused of having a stunt relationship. So therefore I'm very cynical about anyone in the press who tells me the same thing isn't happening here...

"Where is your evidence that Sarkozy is going to be a worse president because he has an attractive and famous girlfriend? I think that's sexist."

Mr Opik, who was engaged to TV weather presenter Sian Lloyd before meeting Ms Irimia, is known as one of Westminster's more colourful characters.

He plays the harmonica, is a trained pilot and has warned of asteroids colliding with earth.

Mr Opik said: "On the whole the media can be as critical as they want of these situations. The public tend to be more generous. They basically say we want people who connect, we want colourful people.

"Just because a politician has an attractive partner, that doesn't make them worse at politics.

"Maybe it actually makes them better and more inspirational in terms of the general public."



SEE ALSO
Politics needs characters - Opik
18 Sep 07 |  UK Politics
Cheeky love 'not lust', says Opik
17 Jan 07 |  UK Politics

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