Nicolas Sarkozy is back in play and calculating the odds

There are few more improbable places from which to start a revolution than the Casino de Paris, a late 19th-century music-hall where Maurice Chevalier, Josephine Baker and Zizi Jeanmaire once strutted their stuff. Thanks to a popular campaign led by a French-Italian actress, Annie Girardot, it narrowly escaped the developers’ wrecking ball, to be reinvented as an edgy-ish concert venue at the turn of the 21st century.
Perhaps it is hoped that the newly revamped Casino will serve as a clever metaphor for Nicolas Sarkozy’s political career: at any rate, the appearance of France’s former president there, last Friday, upstaged his very willing wife, Carla Bruni, for the first of her three shows. Slipping, supposedly inconspicuously, into a stall seat after everyone else had sat down, but before the lights went out and the music started, Sarkozy drew a roaring blast of applause, renewed at the intermission and during those songs Carla wrote just for him. “Nicolas, reviens!” his fans screamed in the hall, while a tanned, relaxed Sarkozy signed autographs smiling a lot and saying very little.
The feeling, said concert-goers, was that of his 2007 victorious campaign, rather than a defeated politician’s private outing. “His arrival was timed to perfection – at every show. And the entourage was watching out for him,” one said. “Well, you don’t expect Carla’s audience to be anti-Sarkozy anyway.”
Coming, as it did, two weeks after a flattering television documentary on his 2012 campaign, in which he appeared as a loving husband, doting father and all-round domestic paragon, this was a second testing of the public waters by a very cagey Sarkozy, intent on toning down the personal image that cost him his job a year and a half ago. The personal has always been political, in France as elsewhere; but never more than for the most polarising president of the Fifth Republic.
A series of costly mistakes, starting the very evening of his election with a VIP dinner organised at Le Fouquet’s, a luxury restaurant on the Champs-Elysées, which was amplified by a short cruise on a billionaire friend’s yacht before his inauguration, stamped Sarkozy indelibly as “the bling president”, “friend to the rich”. Cellphone cameras did the rest, unhelpfully capturing his brusque, demotic style (“Get lost, you sad b—————d”, he famously told a heckler at the Paris Agricultural Fair) . When Sarkozy lost to the bland François Hollande last year, the feeling was that most of the 565,534 voters he lacked to win had been turned off by his personality, or their perception of it.

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