France’s former first lady on her life after politics, raising two children, and covering AC/DC
here are many enchanting things about the onetime resident of the Élysée Palace, the singer- songwriter and model Carla Bruni, but how she refers to her husband might take the gâteau. She calls him “my man.”
That would be Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president of France. Take these moments, for instance: “Even when my man was the president, I’d take the Metro and go anywhere,” Bruni says of her life in Paris, enjoying a luxurious French puff from an e-cigarette. (“This is what you use if you want to get rid of the addiction,” she explains.) As for his vices, “my man doesn’t drink at all. He’s never had a sip of alcohol in his life,” Bruni says. “He’s just never tasted it. It’s better for me when I don’t drink either.”
To stay in shape, “I do barre, Pilates, yoga. When I was younger I would just sit around smoking and eat McDonald’s. But I get embarrassed when I’m out of shape. I wouldn’t care if I wasn’t a public person, but I still get people photographing me. My man does it a lot too.”
Ask Bruni if she misses being la Première dame—Sarkozy lost a comeback bid last year—and she responds, “Not at all. It was really nice. I wouldn’t say it was fun, but it was a fantastic time. Five years of adventure. But I don’t miss it. The media, the press, and the job—it’s just brutal. It was most frightening for my man. When you’re president they want to kill you all the time. At the beginning I was like, ‘This is so funny.’ And then I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is so dangerous!’ It was a great honor, but I was relieved.”
In her youthful years as a fashion model, Bruni, the Italian tire heiress daughter of a concert pianist and a composer, dated what she describes as a “normal” number of men. Among them were Mick Jagger; Eric Clapton; the French publisher Jean-Paul Enthoven; and his son, the philosopher Raphaël Enthoven. She and Raphaël were together for seven years and have a son, Aurélien, now 16.
But it was the president of France who stole her heart. After less than three months of courtship, the pair married, in February 2008. Bruni says she knew immediately that he was the one. “It was like in a fairy tale. It never happened to me before,” she says. “It’s luck. Love doesn’t happen so easily.”
Bruni, who began pursuing music full-time in 1997, released her first album, Quelqu’un M’a Dit (“Someone Told Me”) in 2002. She expected that it would sell only “two copies—one to my mom and one to my sister”—but it ended up selling more than two million. This fall, she plans to hit the road again and hopes Sarkozy will come along. “He loves it,” she says. “And he’s more flexible because he got another job.” (He is now on the board of directors of AccorHotels, a multinational hospitality group based in France.) “I told him, ‘Stop taking all this work, now that we have a little cool time.’ But he cannot be without work, so he works even more. It’s a new life, which is so cool, because he’s 62.” (Bruni is 49; their daughter, Giulia, is five.)
Bruni, for her part, hasn’t stopped working either. In October, she will release a new album, a collection of stripped-down, almost folk-like covers, produced with the help of the composer- producer David Foster, featuring her take on classic numbers like Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” and the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You.”
“I sent Mick the song by e-mail for him to agree, and he was like, ‘Yeah, I like it,’ ” says Bruni, who today is wearing a fitted T-shirt emblazoned with Keith Richards’ face. There’s even a cover of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” one of the few songs on the album that resonate with her teenage son. “He’s okay with Mommy’s music, but he falls asleep a little bit,” she says. Her kids “only see me as their mother; they don’t even see that I’m working. That’s the difference between a man and a woman. If a man is a songwriter, the door is closed, and his girl stands in front of the door being like, ‘Daddy’s working.’ But me, they don’t care. They just go, ‘I’m hungry.’ I’m like, ‘Hey, I have a job, okay?’ ”
At home she and Sarkozy are like a typical couple. She tries to get him to listen to the Clash; he’s partial to Elvis. They watch TV together: “We more or less love anything,” says Bruni. She makes dinner most nights—“I lazily cook pasta”—or they order in. All in all, “I’ve been very lucky,” she says, smiling, and takes a final haul from her mint-flavored vape. “Maybe I did something good in a past life.”
This article originally appears in the September 2017 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR.