Friday, March 28, 2008


The State visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his new wife, the model turned singer Carla Bruni, was the only show in town this week.
At a personal level it was a triumph for the couple, boosting Sarkozy’s battered bling bling image while his stylish, elegant bride, on her first outing abroad as France’s First Lady, looked as if she had been doing the job for years and enchanted every man who looked into her eyes.
Politically it was spun as formidable and it certainly put an end to years of froideur in Anglo-French relations.
What was certainly formidable was Sarkozy’s address to both Houses of Parliament on the opening day of pomp and ceremony.
But I felt I had heard and seen it before. Not the words, but the delivery had the same passion and sincerity he brought to his campaign to be President of France, promising so much from the depths of his heart. Since then he has done nothing to fulfil the promises of change he made to the French people.
It’s true he has only been in office for ten months and since his election has been through the emotional mill with his divorce and the whirlwind romance leading to his third marriage last month.
One French commentator has described Sarkozy is ‘shallow.’ Does this imply the man is more style than substance and while he means well with all his heart he does not follow through?
Perhaps Sarkozy’s the most revealing words in his speech at the dinner in Windsor Castle were that he could say ‘I have been here.’
As the Queen raised her glass to him amid the splendour of William the Conqueror’s 1000-year old fort with The Marseillaise playing for the umpteenth time that day, you could almost feel the huge effort he was making not to reveal the happiness in his heart with a slip of tears from his eyes.
He was living the grandest dream and its fulfilment in reality went far beyond the wildest of his dreams.
Though the French beheaded and banished royalty, a longing for monarchy still beats in heart of every French man and woman and may explain the monarchical style of their Presidency.
At the height of its imperial power, France was so much grander than Britain - we have nothing on the scale of Versailles - and is far more haunted by the splendour and grandeur of its past than we are. It found it far more difficult than Britain did to give up imperial power.
But Sarkozy spoke almost with longing when he praised the changes with have taken place in an entrepreneurial Britain which has put even the recent past behind it.
Perhaps with his private life settled, he may now set about fulfilling his promise of change to the French people. But both he and they probably first need political psychotherapy to rid themselves of the haunting, crippling, unconscious longing for the grandeur of the past so they can at last grasp change and move on.
‘We always knew the first day would represent a unique challenge,’ said Gareth Kirkwood, British Airways Director of Operations, at the end of the chaotic day Heathrow’s Terminal 5 opened for business.
Hyped as a state of the art building which would put an end to airport aggro for BA passengers, it was blighted by cancelled flights, long delays and queues, missing luggage, lifts stopping and travellers being advised to rebook, take the bus to Gatwick to get another flight or find a hotel. There wasn’t even a free cup of tea or coffee or the offer of a refund on offer.
Day One at Terminal 5 was not unique - just business as usual at Heathrow.
Copyright © Rebecca Hamilton 2008. All Rights Reserved

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