In her first interview since marrying French President Nicolas Sarkozy, singer Carla Bruni on Wednesday described their love-affair as instantaneous, said her husband was much misunderstood, and pledged they would be together "until death".
"I am Italian by culture and I would not like to divorce. So I shall be the first lady till the end of my husband's mandate and his wife up until death," she told L'Express magazine, 11 days after the couple's wedding at the Elysee palace on February 2.
The 40 year-old ex-model sought to dispel charges that they have put their romance on public display, and promised to apply herself seriously to her new role as first lady.
The interview was seen as an attempt to woo public opinion at a time when her husband's poll ratings have slumped badly -- largely as a result of the perception that he is too preoccupied with his glamorous new bride.
But Bruni's hopes of winning hearts and minds were knocked off course by a row over her remarks comparing a French magazine to the wartime anti-Semitic press.
The president's wife was forced to issue an apology to Le Nouvel Observateur, which is being sued by the Elysee over the publication on its Internet site of a text message purportedly sent by Sarkozy to his ex-wife Cecilia asking her to come back.
In the interview with L'Express Bruni asked, "If this kind of site had existed in the war, what would have happened with the denunciation of the Jews?". Later she issued a statement, saying that "If I have offended anyone, I am extremely sorry."
An Italian heiress who made a fortune in modelling before a second successful career as a pop-folk singer, Bruni said she was smitten by Sarkozy, 53, the moment that they met.
"When I am near him, the anxiety I have had since being a child disappears. People tell me it all happened too quickly. It's not true. Between Nicolas and me, it wasn't fast, it was instantaneous... Lovers have their own rhythm. Ours is up-tempo," she said.
Bruni said she had felt "submerged" by the "tidal-wave" of interest sparked by their affair, which was like nothing she had experienced in her life as a super-model, but she rebutted accusations that they actively courted media attention.
"Whatever is not secret is immediately said to have been 'put on display'," she said.
Bruni said she had expected before meeting Sarkozy to be impressed by his "courage and energy", but instead found herself admiring his "flexibility of spirit, which comes perhaps from the fact that he is sure of his identity and values."
"I would not have married a man who would not let me think freely, speak freely, be who I am," said Bruni, who has been identified with the political left.
Describing him as "brave", "protective" "unconventional" and "uncorruptible", she said Sarkozy was "a man on the move, who is only happy when advancing. Life with him is always going somewhere ... he is a singular personality, quite different from his public image."
Asked about her role as first lady, Bruni said that when she has finished recording her current album of songs, she will stop work as a musician till Sarkozy's mandate is finished.
"It is a great adventure to be with the man who governs France ... I don't know yet what I can make of the job of first lady, but I know how I am going to do it: seriously," she said.
"I can see that people are concerned about who I am, especially after all these far-fetched and often terrible profiles that have been done of me. But I want to reassure the French. I am 40, I am normal, serious, aware, simple, even if I have had a life of privilege.
"I am proud and happy to be the first lady of France. I will do my best," she said.