PARIS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Thursday he and first lady Carla Bruni were overjoyed at the birth of their daughter and said their pleasure was all the more intense because it was private.
Sarkozy and his office had refused to discuss the Italian-born Bruni's pregnancy, despite high interest in what is the first baby born to a French presidential couple in office.
The coyness has appeared part of a deliberate effort by Sarkozy to repair an image many see as too brash and informal, due in part to his courting of show business stars.
Bruni, a former supermodel and singer, said in a brief message on her Web site that she had been touched by the numerous messages of congratulations since their daughter's birth and announced that they had chosen the name Giulia.
The French leader, on a trip to the northwestern town of Mayenne following two lightning visits to see his wife and new daughter, said both mother and child were doing well.
"We have been lucky to have a very happy event take place," Sarkozy said, as a local factory director gave him a baby oak tree as a present for the newborn.
"All of you who are parents can understand the very deep joy that Carla and I feel. Each one of you can also understand that it's an even deeper joy because it is private," he told reporters.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev both sent congratulations to Sarkozy and Bruni.
The presidential palace refused to confirm the birth, which French media said took place at around 1800 GMT on Wednesday while Sarkozy was in Frankfurt discussing the euro zone crisis. It said its policy was to not comment on private matters.
Many in France had found Sarkozy's high-speed courtship of Bruni distasteful, coming shortly after his 2007 election as president and hard on the heels of his divorce from his second wife, Cecilia.
Sarkozy's style is one factor weighing on his rock-bottom ratings ahead of April elections, where he is expected to seek re-election.
Bruni, in an interview on France 2 television recorded two days before giving birth, defended Sarkozy's track record and said that she hoped he would run as a candidate, having suggested in the past that she was against it.
"It's his decision. I observe all this from very close up so you might say I'm not impartial, but I see the huge amount of work he does for my country. I hope he'll be a candidate," she said.
Sarkozy's father, Pal Sarkozy, spoke to France's BFM television saying the family was "thrilled" and that Bruni was tired but "doing very well".
"We are thrilled to have a 14th grandchild, who is a little girl. Everybody is doing well. Carla is doing very well, I have had news from her, she is a bit tired but that's completely normal," Pal Sarkozy told BFM.
A woman whose daughter gave birth at the same Parisian clinic, La Muette, just before Bruni, told Reuters she had bumped into the first lady, barefoot and wearing a nightdress, in the corridor before the birth.
"She was very relaxed. She said hello to all the babies, asked the fathers their names, she said hello to us, and looked really happy, absolutely radiant," she said at the clinic.
Pollsters say the birth could give a brief boost to Sarkozy as he grapples with dismal popularity ratings of around 30 percent six months before a presidential election that left-wing challenger Francois Hollande is in a strong position to win.
An opinion poll by CSA published this week suggested Hollande could beat Sarkozy by 62 percent to 38 percent in a second-round presidential run-off vote.
The survey gave Hollande 35 percent support for the first round against 25 percent for Sarkozy.
Sarkozy may have raised eyebrows among family-minded voters, however, for jumping on a plane to Frankfurt while Bruni was in labor, returning later in the evening and briefly visiting her and the baby in the maternity clinic.
He returned on Thursday morning, but for less than an hour and did not appear to have flowers or other gifts.
Defense Minister Gerard Longuet told i>Tele Sarkozy was "very happy" and this could only be a good thing for both the ruling conservatives and the country.
"A president who feels at ease with himself, good in his head, good in his life, that's a gift for our country," Longuet told i<Tele. "At any rate, it's a gift for the (ruling) majority."
Sarkozy, 56, has three children from two earlier marriages and Bruni, 43, has a son from a prior relationship.
Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry, Vicky Buffery and Alexandria Sage; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Jon Boyle