We’ve been having a fair few chuckles in this house recently over the Silvio Berlusconi Show, I can tell you. You couldn’t write the script if you tried and it is particularly apt that the star of the show is Italy’s very own premier media mogul, disguising himself once again as a politician. But this is Italy, and that’s why we love it.
‘Judges should have mental check-ups’ he said, with characteristic aplomb and not a hint of irony in his voice – this from the man who has stood trial for misdemeanours more times than I’ve had hot dinners (among them embezzlement, tax fraud and false accounting, and attempting to bribe a judge). Antonio di Pietro, a former anti-Mafia prosecutor, said it was Sig. Berlusconi who “should be tested”, adding: “He is quite crazy.”
In the run-up to his election as Italy’s prime minister (for the third time, somewhat unbelievably) he promised to give voters a one month tax holiday. “It would be a month of freedom” he said with political flourish. Yet hours later he was denying it was a firm commitment, saying, “We may not be able to do it because of the cost, bust as you can see, we do not lack imagination for solving problems.” Superb!
With regard to mentally impaired judges wreaking havoc in the Italian judicial system, he later elaborated: “There are judges who have been certified as mentally insane still on the bench. Prosecutors can begin cases that ruin people’s lives and take their freedom away.” If he’s right, it is a bit of a worry, but, then again, is it any less worrying that this man is back in the Italian driving seat? Let me give you some classic Berlusconi moments, or ‘planetary gaffes’ as a rival once described his legendary and free flowing faux pas:-
At a rally during the 2006 election campaign:
"Read The Black Book of Communism and you will discover that in the China of Mao, they did not eat children, but had them boiled to fertilise the fields."
At the launch of the 2006 campaign: "I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone."
Promising to put family values at the centre of his campaign: "I will try to meet your expectations, and I promise from now on, two-and-a-half months of absolute sexual abstinence, until [election day on] 9 April."
To German MEP Martin Schulz, at start of Italy's EU presidency in July 2003: "I know that in Italy there is a man producing a film on Nazi concentration camps - I shall put you forward for the role of Kapo (guard chosen from among the prisoners) - you would be perfect."
During the controversy raging over the above remark: "I'll try to soften it and become boring, maybe even very boring, but I am not sure I will be able to do it."
To a German newspaper: "In Italy I am almost seen as German for my workaholism. Also I am from Milan, the city where people work the hardest. Work, work, work - I am almost German."
At the Brussels summit, at the end of Italy's EU presidency, in December 2003:
"Let's talk about football and women." (Turning to four-times-married German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder.) "Gerhard, why don't you start?"
On Italian secretaries (comments made at the New York stock exchange):
"Italy is now a great country to invest in... today we have fewer communists and those who are still there deny having been one. Another reason to invest in Italy is that we have beautiful secretaries... superb girls."
On judges pursuing former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti on charges relating to the Mafia: "Those judges are doubly mad! In the first place, because they are politically mad, and in the second place because they are mad anyway.
"If they do that job it is because they are anthropologically different from the rest of the human race."
"There is no-one on the world stage who can compete with me."
"I don't need to go into office for the power. I have houses all over the world, stupendous boats... beautiful airplanes, a beautiful wife, a beautiful family... I am making a sacrifice."
On his alleged conflict of interest as prime minister and one of Italy's biggest tycoons, with major media holdings:
"If I, taking care of everyone's interests, also take care of my own, you can't talk about a conflict of interest."
On a proposal to base an EU food standards agency in Finland, rather than the Italian city of Parma:
"Parma is synonymous with good cuisine. The Finns don't even know what prosciutto is. I cannot accept this."
On history: "The founders of Rome were Romulus and Remulus ..."
We first lived in Italy between 1990 and 1992, a year before Berlusconi burst onto the political scene and shook the whole sorry mess up. He lost his throne the year before we returned to Italy in 1997 and his name was all over the news throughout our time there as he fought to regroup and regain his seat of power. So, yes, Silvio is a bit of an old friend (albeit re-packaged with hair transplant and face-lift), a recurring theme in our love affair with Italy. He represents ‘A different sort of politics’ as BBC correspondent Mark Mardell called it wryly the other night on the news. It is all that is marvellous, mad and totally refreshing about The Italian Way. They just don’t give a damn. Flamboyancy in a dull grey world. Indeed, Berlusconi and Brown are the proverbial chalk and cheese – and you can give me tangy Parmigiano over tasteless dry chalk any day.
Come to think of it, 'Berlusconi: The Movie' could rival 'The Simpsons Movie' for laughs and far-out moments. Robert De Niro, whaddya reckon? You're a dead ringer for Silvio, after all. If you happen to have a mo...