We’ve all been there this year. A loved one Zoom-bombs an important work call, clattering into the room as we’re trying to look and sound professional on screen.
"Ah, tu veux dire bonjour, non?" an effortlessly elegant Carla Bruni, vape in hand, is saying quizzically to someone off-camera in the study in her appropriately chic Parisian home. "My husband doesn’t get the Zoom!" the supermodel-turned-singer-songwriter smiles as a noble head and well-dressed torso bob into view, filling my laptop screen.
"How are you?" asks former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in English considerably more accented than his 52-year-old Italian-born wife’s. "In my family there is not only my wife who is [creating]!" he exclaims, referring to his recently published lockdown-written book Le Temps des Tempetes (Stormy Times).
Our strictly professional menage a trois has met before, in person, in that same room three years ago. Then, the perennially relaxed Bruni beamed lovingly at her husband and his boyish ways. Today, she shoos him away with a "Bye bye!" "He is very entertaining!" she laughs as Sarkozy’s head pushes back in for a smooch. Right now the couple are both in promotional mode, he flogging the book written in their ‘family home’ on the Cote d’Azur, she talking up her new, self-titled album, a set of self-penned, very French, rather lovely guitar-and-piano pop songs.
Bruni appears in her husband’s book, "a little bit", but it is her mention in another book, Le Temps Gagne (Time Saved), the new autobiographical novel by French philosopher Raphael Enthoven, that has really made the headlines in France. Enthoven is Bruni’s ex – and the father of her 19-year-old son, Aurelien. The book depicts a furious argument between the author and his father Jean-Paul over Bruni. The then-model had left the elder Enthoven – whom she had started dating in 2000 – for his son.
True to unflappable form, Bruni waves away the feud that is delighting the French intellectual elite. "I haven’t read it yet. I’m a democracy person, everybody can do what he wants. I like everybody to be expressing themselves. So I said [to Raphael]: ‘Go for it!’"
But even as Bruni promises to "read it on my next holidays", she isn’t bothered by the content. Not even her ex-lover’s 23-line headline-making homage to her bottom?
"Oh! Well, my bottom 20 years ago!"
That was the period when Bruni was successfully pivoting from fashion to music. Her 2002 debut album Quelqu’un m’a dit was a surprise smash, a French number one, selling two million copies. The last time we spoke, she told me that she credits one of her other starry former boyfriends, Mick Jagger (in her modelling years, she also dated Eric Clapton), with helping overcome her initial performance anxiety.
"He said: ‘It can’t be you. You have to put on a character, so you can separate your real life from your stage life.’ I understood that."
Her modelling career, which began when she was 19, made Bruni one of biggest and highest-paid ‘supers’ of the Nineties.
Remarkably, given that she worked with several MeToo photographers, she was never "aggressed [sic] or abused".
Growing up in Turin at a time when the Red Brigades terrorist group were kidnapping and killing politicians and the wealthy, for safety her well-to-do parents moved to France when she was seven. Her mother is Italian concert pianist Marisa Borini, and Bruni was raised assuming her father was her mother’s husband, Alberto Tedeschi, a classical composer and heir to a tyre manufacturing fortune. But as he was dying in 1996, he told her that her biological father was Brazilian grocery tycoon Maurizio Remmert. He’d had a six-year affair with her mother, starting when Remmert was 19 and Borini was 32. So was Bruni angry when she found out she’d been lied to about her true paternity all those years?
"Not at all! [Before finding out] I was always uncomfortable with something – so, knowing, it was a relief. I didn’t feel traumatised at all. It was: ‘Oh, right. That explains everything.’ When you keep a secret, it’s like having a piece of gold in your heart or in your pocket."
In fact, she references the nature of discovery in Un Secret, one of the most affecting songs on her album. "Secrets can be like poison. I know truth is important, but I’m not American, I’m Italian, and we lie all the time! We think lying is the way to do it! It’s easier!" she laughs.
There’s equal candour, musical and personal, in another song, Un Grand Amour. Yes, she admits, it’s about her husband, but it also "gives general advice, and this advice would be: give a lot of importance to love, because that’s the best thing you can do. And sometimes if you’re lucky, you can get a big one."
As to whether lockdown has tested her and Sarkozy, yes, of course, just like it has the rest of us. But it’s had its upsides, too. "We never get to see each other during the daytime, but now I’m seeing him having a nap at three o’clock in the afternoon.
"Yeah, it’s a test," she continues, "but he wrote his book, I wrote my album." It was also a full house, with their nine-year-old daughter Giulia, "and also my mother and [her] sister with us. My mother is 91, and her sister is 95! Italian confinement, oh my God! We almost killed each other!"
This month is the 13th anniversary of their meeting at a dinner, when the recently divorced Sarkozy was six months into his presidency. They married three months later. When they met, for sure, "power was an aphrodisiac", she admits. But more importantly, Bruni says there was also equality and balance from the beginning.
"And good timing. Twenty years ago, he would have needed a woman who was more devoted to him. And I would never have taken a man who has such a strong, dominating temper. But we met when we were strong enough for each other."
Bruni admits it takes work. "Appetite comes with eating, and good sleep with sleeping. So maybe love comes with loving. Desire is the same. If you feel desirable, and if you project desire, you will feel desire everywhere."
And how did they deal with, ah, desire in such a busy house?
"Well, it’s quite a big family house in the south of France. So we have space for work, little spaces hidden where he could write and I could make my music. Then, for love, we just have a bedroom! With a lock! And thick walls!" Irrepressible, Carla Bruni hoots again, merrily exhaling vape smoke.
"But it’s not so inspiring to be confined with your mother-in-law. Poor Nicolas!"