PARIS – She charmed the queen of England, captivated Israel, impressed President Bush and won over the hardest sell of all — the French.
But can France's first lady, top model turned songstress Carla Bruni who married President Nicolas Sarkozy in February, keep spinning the magic once her new album comes out July 11?
Its success, or failure, could be an affair of state.
The Italian-born Bruni (officially Bruni-Sarkozy) makes an unlikely spouse for any national leader. But in France, where a deep conservatism runs through the lush heartland, she is in many ways the very antithesis of a first lady.
A self-described modern woman, the 40-year-old one-time single mother makes no secret of her freewheeling past, including high-profile trysts with the likes of Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton.
Yet while the French have been scandalized by Sarkozy's splashy lifestyle and his very public divorce just months after winning office, they have taken to Bruni in a big way.
With her high society upbringing and easy elegance, Bruni has gained accolades from the media and favorable ratings in opinion polls.
"She has even shown herself to be a very intelligent woman," said Jean-Luc Parodi, a longtime political analyst. "The way she has handled herself since her marriage shows a real finesse in understanding both the president and French society."
The title of the new album — her third — is revealing: "Comme si de rien n'etait" (As If Nothing Had Happened). It will be released in many European countries on Friday, sandwiched between the G-8 summit in Japan and a July 13 summit of world leaders in Paris. The album comes out in the United States in August, under its French title.
At the Elysee presidential palace — where the first lady maintains an office but has yet to take up permanent residence — Bruni's fortunes are of keen strategic interest. An aide and friend of Sarkozy, Pierre Charon, has been assigned to guide her through the minefields of French politics.
"For the moment, she's a good card," said Colombe Pringle, executive editor of the celebrity magazine "Point de Vue," before adding: "It can turn very fast. ... It might backlash."
"It's important that (the album) is good," she said.
Sarkozy took office in May 2007 with sky-high approval ratings, but within six months had used up that reservoir of support. His messy October divorce from Cecilia Sarkozy and a brash, showy style that won him the nickname "President Bling-Bling" alarmed the French who like their presidents to appear, well, presidential.
Beyond image, Sarkozy's failure to quickly bring about promised change, like easing pinched pocketbooks, sealed the disappointment.
Then came Carla to the rescue.
Less than five months after her Feb. 2 marriage to Sarkozy, the culmination of a whirlwind romance, Bruni has brought a measure of calm to the frenetic president and class to the presidential image — apparently without compromising her essential self.
Despite the boost, Sarkozy's own support ratings remain dismal at around 40 percent — compared to nearly 70 percent approval in June for Bruni.
Bruni, from a wealthy Turin family of industrialists and musicians, made her name as a guitar-strumming singer in 2002 with her hit first album, "Quelqu'un m'a dit" (Someone Told Me). Featuring folksy tunes and Bruni's cracked, softly sexy voice, the album was a hit, selling 2 million copies. A second album "No Promises" was not.
One of the 14 songs on her new album, "Ma came" (My Drug), has already received one bad review — from Colombian Foreign Minister Fernando Araujo who took offense at the lyrics: "You are my drug/ More deadly than Afghan heroin/More dangerous than white Colombian."
"Coming from the mouth of the wife of the President of France, this type of statement is very painful for Colombia," Araujo said last month after the French newspaper Le Figaro leaked the text. Colombia produces more than 80 percent of the world's cocaine.
Bruni wrote and composed most of the songs on the album, which also features a cover in English of Bob Dylan's "You Belong to Me" and an Italian song.
In a concession to her official status, she will not give concerts and royalties will go the Foundation of France, which funds charities, said Rebecca Hayat of Bruni's record label, Naive.
Will listeners get a musical peek into Bruni's love affair with Sarkozy, whom she met at a dinner party? Alas, not really.
She did say in a lengthy interview with the daily Liberation that one song "L'Amoureuse" (Woman In Love) was "developed" if not written after meeting the president. She cites one passage in particular: "The streets are gardens/I dance on the sidewalks."
After a rocky start featuring a widely criticized premarital vacation in Jordan and Egypt with an armada of paparazzi in tow, the couple married at a private ceremony and gained acceptance.
The new first lady's curtsy before Queen Elizabeth II, on Sarkozy's first state visit to Britain in March, won hearts and sealed the deal. Bruni even upstaged her own nude photos dating from her modeling days — which British tabloids splashed across their pages.
"Carla-mania" took over Israel on a June trip there. And the main Palestinian daily, Al-Quds, devoted its top left hand photograph, normally devoted to scenes of Palestinian suffering, to the French first lady.
"She's a really smart, capable woman and I can see why you married her," President Bush told Sarkozy during his June 14 visit to France.
The French press, the serious and the less so, has had a field day.
"She is good for sales, but the story was good for sales from the start," said Pringle, Point de Vue's top editor. "The fact that the president was in love again, in love with Carla Bruni, pow! It went crazy."