In the eye of Hurricane Carla

On a morning news programme, I'm asked whether Kevin Costner is on the longlist of the first lady's

I could feel excitement in the air but I wasn't prepared for such frenzy. It was as if a hurricane had hit Britain. We soon called it Hurricane Carla, as in Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. The Daily Mail had set the tone, publishing a naked picture of France's first lady just hours before she set foot at Heathrow with France's newly elected president on a state visit to the Queen.

It was barely light when a British journalist, obviously titillated by Carla in the nude, asked me on a 6.20am news programme if Kevin Costner was indeed on the longlist of her former lovers. I was taken aback. I had naively thought we would discuss Sarkozy's politics. What was I supposed to answer? At 6.45am, a radio show wanted to know my prognosis for that evening's football match between France and England. Time to be diplomatic for a change: I said nil-nil. We won. There were two other calls from excitable chat-show hosts on the way to Windsor. This was going to be quite a day.

At 8am, hordes of journalists and commentators roamed Windsor's high street, checking emails at the fancy hotel opposite the castle and making friends with the local bobbies as they set up their cameras and kilometres of cables. At 11.30am, a Horse Guards Band arrived to keep spirits up, playing Glenn Miller melodies. At noon, the Queen was driven at a stately pace in her Bentley to the station, where she was to greet her Republican guest. On our TV monitor, the Sarkozys' marathon had just started. At Heathrow, he in a pair of high-heeled loafers and she in a grey retro air-hostess ensemble by Dior were greeted by the heir to the throne. The British journalist next to me exclaimed: "Oh Dior, j'adore."

The royal carriages at last made their entry on the high street, and a cannon fired. The "Marseillaise" resounded loudly, shaking the window panes of Windsor's chichi tearooms with its "Let's march! Let's march!/May our land with tainted blood be soaked!"

Wooing Westminster

Journalists then broke for lunch and I left for Westminster, where Nicolas Sarkozy was to deliver a speech in front of a full house and the whole government. Flanked on both sides by frescos depicting our defeats (and your victories) at Trafalgar and Waterloo, Nicolas Sarkozy performed Act I of his amorous declaration to Britain and the British.

For the entire cabinet, parliament and the Lords it was love at first sight. They were all blushing and bursting into applause throughout Nicolas's speech. In the days it took to recover their senses, I had to calm everyone down, explaining over and over again that this was classic Sarkozy, who, for all his fiery passion, didn't always mean what he had so vehemently spelled out.

The banquet at the Guildhall proved rather jolly. Trumpeters in gold uniforms made a great impression on the French guests who marvelled at the choice of music played throughout the dinner, a mélange of French pop ("My Way") with old Forties chansons ("La Vie en Rose") and film themes ("A Man and a Woman"). In his speech, the Lord Mayor complimented the president on his recent marriage, to which the president replied with a long and rather vague dissertation on the world economy. Then, to the business of eating. Nobody wasted their time. In just 45 minutes, a four-course dinner was served by an army of diligent waiters: quail, trout and beef followed by three desserts. A toast to the Queen, a toast to the French Republic, and Nicolas and Carla made their exit, or took French leave, which in French we call "scooting off the English way". The Lord Mayor told us 700 guests to continue "as if nothing had happened".

The leader as a young man

Au revoir, Nicolas and Carla; bonjour, May '68! With its 40th anniversary looming, I put the finishing touches to a multimedia and interactive "podtour" of Paris '68 - a hybrid between a radio documentary, a guided tour and a podcast. With a string of French and British contributors, it revisits the glorious days of May 1968, when everything seemed possible, and when a 14-year-old Nicolas Sarkozy, in a tie and strict blazer, exhorted his fellow students to get off the barricades and resume their studies.

"Le Podtour May '68" is on from 12 April

This article first appeared in the 07 April 2008 issue of the New Statesman, British jihad