Carla Bruni has worn a lot of hats: supermodel, first lady of France, mother, muse. Now, the star, 49, is coming back to one of her first loves – music.
With a newly released cover album, French Touch, the singer-songwriter is bringing her French croon to classic hits like “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones, “Stand by Your Man” by Tammy Wynette and AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” Although it’s Carla’s fifth studio album, it’s just her second in English.
“My cover songs are like lullabies,” the mother of two says. “The album is made out of admiration for these songs.”
It’s been five years since Carla’s husband, Nicolas Sarkozy, was president of France and she the nation’s first lady. Even though the couple – who married in 2008 – have moved out of the Elysée Palace, they’ve been busy balancing work with raising their six-year-old daughter, Giulia, and her 16-year-old son, Aurélien, from a previous relationship.
“You know, my children don’t think I’m a songwriter,” Carla says with a laugh. “They think I’m their mother and that’s it!”
Sporting a classic grey crewneck sweater and stylish skinny jeans, the Italian-born beauty caught up with Hello! in Montreal. Perched in front of a cozy fireplace in her luxurious hotel suite, Carla talked about her music, how her husband keeps their romance alive and the secret to looking young.
The songs on French Touch are very eclectic. You cover Frank Sinatra, Lou Reed and Depeche Mode, among others. What drew you to these songs?
Most of these songs I discovered when I was a teenager and I loved to play them on my guitar. It’s me coming back to all these songs that were so much fun when I was younger. There’s something about music that goes straight to your memory, and that’s how the album was made.
What was it like to collaborate with a hitmaker like Canada’s David Foster, who produced your album?
It was a dream. Working with very talented people ... they make you feel talented. I met David in Los Angeles – he was the head of my label at the time, Verve at Universal – and he came to my concert and said to me, “I like your voice. Let’s write some songs in English.” And I said, “What? I can’t. I already tried.” He said, “Let’s choose songs. A cover album.” And I said, “Bingo.”
Where do you work on your music?
I have a studio in my house, but the children walk in as if it’s a marketplace! [Laughs] It’s where I make all my demos, and where I write my songs. My guitar is in there and all my records. It’s like a little shelter.
Your son, Aurélien, is a fan of rock and metal. Has his musical taste rubbed off on you?
A little bit! [Laughs] To me, metal music was more like Led Zeppelin when I was young. He listens to AC/DC a lot and Metallica. I guess I heard it through the doors! I said to him, “You know, I made an AC/DC cover,” and he was surprised. He said to me, “When you sing AC/DC, it sounds like a lullaby.” [Laughs]
Does he make any of his own music?
No, he’s actually into science. He has a YouTube channel where he makes science videos – very good science videos.
What’s your husband’s favourite song on the album?
I would say Abba’s “The Winner Takes It All,” because he is the very romantic type.
What’s the most romantic thing he’s done lately?
It’s been 10 years and he’s still romantic! He sends me flowers every week. Even after all these years, I’m so happy.
When you were first lady of France, did you have to put your musical ambitions on hold?
Not really. I had to stop touring because that was impossible with security. But apart from that, I wrote an album while my husband was still president and I released it – but people were shocked. It’s not a shameful job to be a singer! During the day, it was a great time of my life because I could do things I love, like my charity work, but I would write every night because I needed silence and mystery. It was really one of the most fulfilling times of my life.
How has your life changed in the past five years?
Well, my husband isn’t the president anymore, so we don’t live surrounded by police! It’s nicer.
You were back on the catwalk in September walking for Versace at Milan Fashion Week, commemorating the 20th anniversary of designer Gianni Versace’s death. What was it like being on the runway again with other ’90s supermodels, like Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer?
It was very moving because some of the girls like Cindy and Claudia, I haven’t seen in 25 years! I hadn’t seen Donatella [Versace] for a very long time. It was a mixed emotion because it was very fun to be onstage, but then I realized while we were on the runway walking to the music that Gianni Versace would always use for us – “Freedom! ’90” by George Michael – George is gone, Gianni is gone, our youth is gone. So it was very wonderful and a little sad. But I thought while I was walking on the runway, maybe Gianni and George were just hanging out up there and watching us.
You’ll be celebrating your 50th birthday soon, but you don’t look like you’ve aged at all! What beauty advice can you share?
Have an affectionate life. I also try to eat well and exercise every day – it’s the only way that one can be fit and healthy. After 40 years old, something from your soul comes out. Beauty doesn’t really age, and I believe that charm ages better. My advice would be to concentrate on charm instead of purely esthetic things. Beauty flies away, but intelligence and charm? Keep!
What does a perfect day look like to you?
A day with music. It’s a day with my kids and with the sun. It’s definitely a holiday.
Family is important to you, isn’t it?
It’s the most important thing. Loneliness is probably the heaviest burden on a human being. As alive beings on earth, I think we need to be surrounded by others.
If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of career advice, what would it be?
Find something that suits you. That’s the most important thing, because working is not always a pleasure, but if you find work that suits you – no matter what it is – it becomes easy.
And what’s next for you – is a tour in the works?
Yes, I’m going to be touring in Europe, South America, Asia and North America. I’ll be here in Canada in February. It’s going to be a long time touring then I’ll pray for my life to continue as it is. I pray for my children to grow up, and I pray that I die before my man and my kids – I wouldn’t want to live without them.