POWER CRAZY? Carla Bruni (above) and (below) Elizabeth Hurley
You see them in Londons ritziest hangouts, such as Bungalow 8, Ciprianis and Annabels, hungry eyes piercing through the low lighting as they scope out their next man.
Theyre the Euro-WAGs, international ex-models teetering on the brink of 40, with sexual CVs that read like the back pages of Paris Match and usually a couple of divorces beneath their D&G chastity belts.
Time, helped by money, has been kind, but these women are impatient to land the grand prize for the next phase of their life: the aged rock star with a house in St Tropez, the financier with a chain of hotels — or, failing that, the French President.
How deliciously predictable it is for the newly divorced Nicolas Sarkozy, 52, to be caught on the arm of 39-year-old Carla Bruni this week at Disneyland Paris. Just as his interest in the exquisitely beautiful model-turned-folk star is all too easily imagined, so is the intrepid Brunis in Sarko.
Bruni is part of a distinct clan of modern Madame Bovarys who never quite seem to reach the summit of their romantic ambitions.
They want fame, of course, and those who havent inherited want the wealth — but most importantly they want the lifestyle: the high-profile friends, the gilt-edged party invitations, the feigned political and artistic interests.
Euro-WAGs such as Liz Hurley, Elle MacPherson and Caprice will always describe their modelling careers as digressions, although quite what the main thread is remains to be seen. In their late thirties and early forties, these women are at the peak of their physical beauty — which is to say, just before its collapse.
They keep make-up to a minimum and never wear especially short skirts or display too much cleavage, opting for Prada by day and leopard-print dresses paired with Louboutins at night.
As for the men on their arms, scarcely a Euro-WAG exists without serial swordsmen such as Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and Arpad Busson featuring in their back catalogues. But once these women get to a certain age, their taste in partners mysteriously changes.
Bruni used to be involved with Donald Trump. The Spanish model Inés Sastre did roughly the same circuit before her fling with the admittedly charming but youd-have-to-think-of-the-handbags golfer Colin Montgomerie.
But with their short or medium-term beauty, they are obliged to be long-term strategists, and as such invest as much discipline in the supervision and conservation of their prime assets as a businessman does with his books.
They might have slight weight issues masquerading as wheat or lactose intolerances, they work out religiously, take herbal mood relaxants, but they avoid alcohol at all costs.
Such discipline has come at the cost of their girlish sensuality, leaving them brittle and insecure, though without the impetuosity that is the enemy of any good business plan. When appearing in the glossies, they gush about their lives at just the right tempo.
Im someone who likes the shadows, serenity, tranquillity, pleaded Cécilia Sarkozy — ironically, the epitome of the Euro-WAG and one whose dalliances we shall doubtless soon have laid out in the British press. I never felt fame or power was important when you are in love, blathered Bruni.
Is there anything wrong with pursuing successful men? No, success has always been sexy. Yet the Euro-WAGs arent really about sex: theyre about an insatiable Becky Sharp-style hunger for power and influence.
Sarkozys fling with Bruni might not last, and do no more than raise a passing titter. But he is, after all, a president, with a grand strategy for the renewal of his country that could involve ferocious confrontations with vested interests, not to speak of being one of three Western males with a finger on a nuclear button, and it does nothing for your confidence in his judgment.
As he sinks into his gilt armchair in the evening and sighs, God, Ive had a bad day with Bush about Atlantic nuclear strategy, one can imagine Brunis riposte all too well: Tell me about it — the traffic outside Galeries Lafayette was murder.