Why it's going to be a blue, blue Christmas for Berlusconi
He is renowned for lavishing gifts on showgirls, friends and political allies, but this Christmas even Silvio Berlusconi is feeling the pinch.
As Italy's worst recession since the war drags on with seemingly no end in sight, and a month after he was kicked out of parliament as a result of a tax fraud conviction, the country's controversial former prime minister has reportedly decided to reign in his holiday season spending.
Instead of treating his staff and the members of his relaunched Forza Italia party to a typically expensive meal in one of Rome's top restaurants, Berlusconi -- who remains a billionaire despite all his political and judicial travails -- will instead give them a modest buffet lunch at his party headquarters.
He has also decided not to buy expensive gifts for his closest associates -- a departure from past years, when he spent hundreds of thousands of euro on Rolex watches, smartphones and tablets for male MPs, and necklaces, diamond pendants and earrings for his female admirers.
The three-time prime minister will instead be spending an unusually quiet Christmas at his home with Francesca Pascale, his 28-year-old fiancee, and her beloved toy poodle, Dudu.
"I've never had a dog, but it's opened up a whole new world," he reportedly told some members of his centre-right party recently.
The belt-tightening may have been ordered by Ms Pascale, who hopes to become Berlusconi's third wife.
In October, she revealed that she had launched a "spending review" -- she used the English phrase -- to cut costs at Palazzo Grazioli, the sumptuous mansion in Rome that she now shares with the 77-year-old tycoon.
She discovered that Berlusconi, who prides himself on his business acumen, had been charged €80 a kilo for green beans -- around 16 times the going rate.
Mr Berlusconi's caterers were also purchasing large quantities of expensive fresh fish -- despite the fact that he cannot stand the stuff.
"Huge crates of fish were arriving, even though they all know not only that he doesn't eat fish, but he hates the smell when it is being cooked," Ms Pascale said.
She revealed she was determined to put a stop to such waste in the future and curb spending.
"I have embarked on a full reorganisation of the house, a sort of spending review," she said. (©Daily Telegraph, London)