FOR Silvio Berlusconi, age is but a number capable of being shattered by Cupid’s arrow. At the age of 76, the former Italian prime minister has abandoned his notorious “bunga bunga” parties for an engagement to a woman 50 years his junior.
The controversial politician, who is on trial accused of paying 17-year-old exotic dancer Karima el-Mahroug for sex, announced his retreat from the hurly-burly of the chaise-longue towards the deep peace of the marriage bed in an interview on a talk show on his Canale 5 TV network.
The billionaire media tycoon told the host that girlfriend Francesca Pascale, 27, had been a great comfort. “Finally, I feel less lonely,” he said. “I am engaged to a Neapolitan, it’s official.
“She is 27 years old, with very solid values, beautiful on the outside and even more beautiful on the inside. She is very close to me, she loves me very much and I feel the same. My daughter Marina appreciates her and loves her very much too.”
The couple first met when Ms Pascale, a former shop assistant who served as a councillor for Mr Berlusconi’s centre-right PDL party, set up a support group for him called “Silvio, we miss you”.
He said: “Little by little, she worked in my political organisation, then close to me.”
His fiancée has said her life now revolves around her family, politics and Mr Berlusconi, but she is said to be watchful of her position and jealous of other women, such as Mara Carfagna, a former glamour model whom he made equal opportunities minister in his last government.
If the marriage goes ahead, it will be Mr Berlusconi’s third trip down the aisle. He has five children from his first two marriages and has yet to divorce his second wife, Veronica Lario. His first wife was Carla Elvira Dall’Oglio to whom he was married from 1965 to 1985.
Mr Berlusconi also talked about the “bunga bunga” parties at his various palatial homes.
“I need to apologise,” he said. “It was a period when I was feeling alone. I was divorced, my mother was dead, my sister, too, my children were travelling around the world.
“Then someone said, ‘Why don’t we organise some soirees?’ I was tricked.”
Mr Berlusconi is alleged to have paid Ms el-Mahroug for sex at one of his parties. Although prostitution is legal in Italy, it is against the law if the girl is under the age of 18.
The former PM hit out at the current trial, which he described as an “incredible machination”.
He said: “It was an excuse to put in place a giant operation for defamation against me and against the Italian government, including on an international level. Politicians get used to all kinds of slights after 20 years in politics. But there is one thing that cries about for vengeance before God and before man. I have been sentenced by a panel of judges in Milan.”
A conviction right before next year’s elections would be a major blow to Mr Berlusconi, who in October was convicted of tax fraud in a separate case involving his media holdings.
He denied those charges and is appealing against the sentence, which is not considered definitive until all three levels of appeal have been exhausted.
Italy’s political and financial foundations were rocked last week by Mr Berlusconi’s decision to withdraw his party’s support for Prime Minister Mario Monti’s government, claiming its austerity measures had made Italians worse off than a year ago when he was last in power.