I JUST can't stay away from Silvio Berlusconi. And no, it's not because he's been offering me wads of money or a government ministry in exchange for my company at his Milan villa.
I'm a realistic woman and I recognise I'm too old -- and have never been sufficiently luscious -- to meet his demanding criteria. But though last time I wrote about him I said if his priapic behaviour didn't bother the Italians, it was no business of ours, I'm enjoying his career too much to follow my own advice. These are dark times, we need all the entertainment we can get and the antics of 74-year-old Signor ('I-sometimes-am-a-sinner') Berlusconi are too priceless to ignore.
Now I fully realise that Rubygate is a serious matter. The prime minister is upset that there are attempts to charge him with having an illegal relationship with Karima El Mahroug, the Moroccan belly-dancer better known as Ruby Rubacuori (Ruby the Heartstealer). Apparently, in Italy it's okay to have sex with a 14-year-old girl, but if you pay her you have to wait till she's 18, and Ruby was only 17 when she began attending Silvio's bunga-bunga parties.
A digression is necessary here for readers in need of enlightenment. The most polite version of bunga bunga involves a nude chap with or without his mates having a swimming-pool orgy with plenty of naked ladies. Miss Heartstealer explained to Milan prosecutors that "Silvio -- I call him Silvio and not daddy as he would like to be called -- told me he'd copied the expression bunga bunga from Gaddafi. It's a rite of his African harem."
A further digression concerns the relationships between Silvio and various senior politicians. Apart from his sexual confidante Colonel Gaddafi of Libya, there was the late Bettino Craxi, Italian prime minister from 1983-1987, and one of Silvio's best men at his 1990 wedding; four years later Craxi would flee to Tunisia to avoid having to serve 27 years for corruption. Nicholas Sarkozy, now president of France, was once one of his top French lawyers (Silvio's had more lawyers than ladies) and he and Vladimir Putin are best pals. A couple of years back, at a joint press conference, when a tough question from a Russian journalist annoyed Putin, Silvio mimed a gunman shooting her. Perhaps mindful that journalists are routinely murdered or crippled in Russia, she began to cry. Silvio was indignant: he was just being playful.
Others had a sense-of-humour failure when it came to his remark that Barack Obama was "young, handsome and even tanned". He once lavished expensive hospitality and presents on the Blairs, but David Cameron seems immune to his charms. Asked last Thursday on a factory visit what he had learned at Number 10 Downing Street, the spoilsport said: "I've learned that if the queen asks you to a party, you say yes, and if the Italian prime minister asks you to a party, it's probably safer to say no."
Back to Ruby, who insisted to Milan prosecutors that although Silvio gave her €8,000, a car and a diamond necklace, no impropriety ever occurred. We don't know yet how her benefactor's lawyers will explain away his alleged phone calls to cops who had arrested her for theft -- successfully urging them to release her since she was related to his pal, then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (she's isn't).
With the help of armies of lawyers, his newspapers, TV channels and parliamentary supporters who have been helpful in changing key laws, our Silvio has until now fought off allegations from people who wonder if making €7bn or so possibly involved corruption and mafia cooperation. But as the Feds got Al Capone for tax avoidance, Rubygate has the potential to bring down Silvio on charges of sex with a minor. Mind you, I wouldn't count on it.
I'm longing for Private Eye to stage its Cosi Fan Prostituti. Highlights of Act 94, which is set in the Palazzo Fornicazzione, include: "The Robber Baron is besieged by a chorus of dancing girls, courtesans and female members of the European Parliament, angrily accusing him of seducing their virtue in return for large sacks of gold. A trio of the fallen women, Signorinas Bunga Bunga, Rumpi Pumpi and Lotta Totti, sing the haunting aria Mille e tre (How on earth could he have sex with 1,003 of us in one night?)." After an unsuccessful plea from the Pope to repent, Silvio is surrounded by "a chorus of adoring male voters, all pledging undying support for Silvio as they sing Donna Kebab ('Give her one for us, Silvio'). The curtain falls, but not on the government."
Italians will be Italians. But when you think of some of the clowns and villains we've elected in our time, who are we to criticise?