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LONDON/PARIS (Billboard) - Carla Bruni's marriage to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France in 2008 has made her a steady fixture in tabloid newspapers across Europe. But capitalizing on such exposure remains a challenge for the chart-topping singer-songwriter.
Bruni's media profile has been particularly prominent in recent months, thanks to widely circulated holiday photos in August, her appearance on the cover of the September 11 U.K. edition of the Economist for a story about her husband's slump in popularity and a salacious new biography, "Carla et les Ambitieux" by Michael Darmon and Yves Derai, which has received heavy press coverage.
Reports recently surfaced in the French media that Sarkozy's aides had requested she delay her planned musical comeback due to fears that it could be politically damaging amid the current wave of French protests and strikes over economic reforms.
Small wonder that, as Bruni continues writing songs for her fourth album, due in 2011, her team is contemplating how to balance her musical career with her status as first lady of France. That status caused problems when Bruni's third album, "Comme Si De Rien N'etait," was released in July 2008, five months after she married Sarkozy.
"We had to cancel her international tour for security reasons but also because (French) people might not have accepted that their first lady would be onstage," says Bertrand De Labbey, CEO of talent agency VMA, who manages Bruni's music career.
While the French president's wife has a less prominent role than the United States' first lady, Bruni remains subject to intense scrutiny by the French media. She has tried to avoid any suggestion that she's profiting from her position, donating her recording royalties on "Comme Si De Rien N'etait," which hit No. 1 in France, to charity. "Comme" has sold 193,000 copies in France and a further 288,000 internationally, according to label Naive.
De Labbey insists he's happy with the album's sales, claiming, "Everybody would have considered (that) amazing if she hadn't been France's first lady."
But Bruni's unavailability for touring and promotion seemed to hamper the album's international sales performance. Despite her fame in the United Kingdom, "Comme" reached only as high as No. 58 on the U.K. albums chart, with total sales of 13,300, according to the Official Charts Co.
Bruni's last U.K. promotional campaign consisted of a single interview, with the Sunday Times newspaper, and a solitary TV appearance on BBC 2's "Later ... With Jools Holland." U.K. label Dramatico incurred 12,000 ($18,800) in charges imposed by the French state for six security operatives to mingle with the studio audience, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Still, Dramatico chairman Mike Batt says he and Bruni share a "relaxed" approach to releasing her music. "Her life at the moment is to be Mrs. Sarkozy," he says, "and we quite understand that."
Refocusing public perception of Bruni as a recording artist will be crucial for the promotion of her next album, says Alan Edwards, CEO of London-based PR company the Outside Organization, which represents everyone from Naomi Campbell to Amy Winehouse. (Bruni is repped by London-based Republic Media.)
"The biggest challenge will be to separate Carla as artist and Carla as first lady," Edwards says. "The context of all interviews should be music-related, with as low a presence of the first-lady trappings as possible."
Ultimately, the key to putting Bruni's music career back on track may lie with her husband. If Sarkozy loses the May 2012 election, a more engaged approach to Bruni's musical life seems assured. But, even if he remains in office for another five-year term, De Labbey is optimistic that Bruni's musical career will soon be more of a priority.
"Now time has passed," he says. "She's fulfilled her role as first lady. Things might change."