Cecilia Sarkozy I hated life in the limelight

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PARIS, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Cecilia Sarkozy says her marriage to French President Nicolas Sarkozy failed just five months after his election because she hated life in the limelight.

''For him, it's like a violinist who has been given a Stradivarius, suddenly he has the chance to practise his art,'' she told L'Est Republicain regional daily in an interview published today. ''It's not the same thing for me.'' Sarkozy's office announced yesterday the couple had ended their 11-year marriage, making Cecilia's stint as ''first lady'' the shortest in French history.

''We tried everything, I tried everything. But it just wasn't possible anymore ... Public life doesn't suit me,'' she said in remarks that were noticeably free of any trace of bitterness.

''I am someone who likes to be in the shadows, who likes serenity, tranquillity.'' Sarkozy, who is still wearing his wedding ring, slapped down a question about his divorce during a news conference at the end of an EU summit in Portugal.

''I was elected by the French people to find solutions to their problems, not to comment on my private life,'' he said sharply. The French people were much less interested in his divorce than the media, he added.

''They are right and perhaps they also have more decency and more discretion and, dare I say it, a bit more elegance too.'' Cecilia, who this week posed for a photo spread in the glossy Paris Match magazine, said she and the president were just like any other couple facing problems in their marriage.

''What happened to me has happened to millions of people: one day you no longer have your place in the couple,'' she said.

''It's no longer the essential thing in your life. It no longer works. The reasons are inexplicable, it happens to lots of people. It happened to us.'' SHAKEN The confirmation of their divorce, after months of marital strife, knocked a major transport strike off the nation's front pages. The pair first separated in 2005 and Cecilia moved to New York to be with another man.

''In 2005, I met someone, I fell in love, I left,'' she said.

She returned to her husband the following year in an attempt to heal a rift that had caused Sarkozy to lose weight, snap at staff and appear visibly shaken.

Some political rivals questioned his ability to govern under strain, such was Cecilia's reputation as a calming influence over her hyperactive husband. Analysts have wondered whether his divorce could affect the president's policymaking.

A CSA poll showed 92 per cent of French had not changed their opinion of Sarkozy because of the divorce and 79 percent said it was not an important event in French politics.

Cecilia had a brief spell in the limelight in the summer when she travelled to Libya to help free six foreign medics from a Libyan jail. Opposition Socialists demanded an inquiry into whether a proposed deal to supply Tripoli with anti-tank missiles was linked to the medics' release.

''I thought I could help,'' she said of her trip. ''Now I'm being asked to apologise for having got these women and this man released. That's not right.'' Cecilia confirmed she had not voted in May's presidential run-off ballot because she felt out of sorts, but said she was delighted by her husband's triumph.

''I was proud and happy for him,'' she said. ''I was proud because it's a lifetime's work. It takes self-sacrifice, a lot of sacrifice to get there.

''But I think he is one of that breed of men who put their entire career and life at the service of the state, without asking for anything in return.'' REUTERS ARB VC1944

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