The news about Silvio Berlusconi this morning made me feel nostalgic. The man is obviously a rogue and a buffoon. But he is fantastically entertaining – as the latest public exchange of letters with his wife illustrates all too clearly.
I got to observe Berlusconi at reasonably close quarters during the Italian presidency of the European Union in 2003. He threw a banquet for journalists in the Villa Madama in Rome – and his display there revealed several of his characterstic qualities: charm, lechery, paranoia.
First, he made sure that all the prettiest female journalists were sitting at his table. I was a little way away, but they seemed to be having a pretty uproarious time. Apparently Berlusca made great play of the fact that there was a magnificent Roman-style bath in the villa, and offered to show it to his guests after dinner. Then he gave a long and rambling speech, whose main argument seemed to be that all his legal problems stemmed from the fact that the press and judiciary in Italy are controlled by Communists. He even claimed to be the most persecuted man in the country, which was an odd take on events – since he was also the richest man, and the prime minister. The Italian diplomats at my table were absolutely cringing and didn’t know where to look. And a German journalist sitting next to me said in shocked tones: "This is a very serious matter. A major European country is in the hands of a lunatic."