Biography paints French first lady as 'chameleon'

But the author of "Carla: A Secret Life", an unauthorised biography chronicling her transformation from an allegedly tempestuous man-eater into an apparent meek, model spouse, suggests Carla Bruni-Sarkozy has become something of a political liability for her husband.

Besma Lahouri says Bruni-Sarkozy's alleged rivalry with Michelle Obama has strained relations between the French and US presidential couples, and her image of distant, well-heeled perfection has kept her at arm's length from the French people.

At a time when the conservative president's popularity has plummeted, and he is being criticized for raising the retirement age and cracking down on Eastern European Gypsy immigrants, having a more accessible first lady might soften his image, she said.

"The French don't know their first lady, and her worries seem to them very far removed from their own," Lahouri told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday, a day ahead of the much-anticipated release of her book.

All the French have seen of Bruni-Sarkozy of late, Lahouri said, is footage of her with the Queen of England and other dignitaries, picture-perfect in Christian Dior skirt suits with marching hats, shoes and handbags.

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