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She wanted to "live in the shadows" but her husband wanted to live in the limelight.

Nicolas Sarkozy reaches out to his wife, Cecilia, after his swearing-in ceremonySo Cecilia summed up the inevitability of her marriage breakdown today in the French newspaper, L'Est Republicain.

The 49-year-old former model insisted they had "tried everything" to stay together. And even though she had run off to New York in 2005 with an advertising executive, she said she had returned with every intention of rebuilding her relationship.

"What happened to me has happened to millions of people," she said. "One day you just don't have your place in the couple... it does not work anymore."

France's former first lady went on to say she now wanted time to be able to put her family first.

The couple, who were both on their second marriage, had one child together, Louis, aged 11. They also had two children each from their previous marriages.

But for someone who explained her public absences by claiming it was a way "to not show oneself, not expose oneself, to protect oneself", Cecilia has been quick off the mark to get her side of the story in the press.

Especially so when the official divorce statement from the Elysee stated clearly that neither side wished to comment on their separation.

Was it really a coincidence that the glossy Paris Match chose yesterday - the day the divorce was announced - to publish a new set of official photos of Cecilia Sarkozy, none of which picture her with her husband?

American holiday

Nicolas and Cecilia's relationship has been documented by the media far more than any other presidential marriage.

Nicolas and Cecilia Sarkozy on Bastille Day
The couple have courted the attention of the cameras

President Francois Mitterrand managed to keep a mistress and illegitimate daughter secret from the public for 21 years - even though the press knew every detail about it. But the Sarkozys' every move has been scrutinised, then interpreted.

Newspapers and magazines described the pair as a sort of Gallic version of the Kennedys and when the press suspected the marriage was on the rocks, hundreds of French journalists turned sleuth and began tracking the couple's movements.

For example - the Sarkozys were on holiday in America over the summer but only Nicolas turned up to US President George Bush's picnic lunch, claiming his wife was ill with a sore throat.

The next day, photographers snapped her in a shopping mall, looking perfectly healthy.

Blaze of publicity

The strict French privacy laws seemed not to apply when it came to the new presidential couple - their marriage was almost a national soap opera.

But it is the Sarkozys themselves who have been feeding the hungry press.

Nicolas Sarkozy
Ms Sarkozy says she never wanted to be a typical presidential wife

Nicolas Sarkozy has courted and manipulated the media like no other president, grabbing the TV and newspaper headlines every day.

He is also largely responsible for what the French call the "pipolisation" of politics, bringing in that special "celebrity factor".

When Cecilia left him in 2005, the then-interior minister exploited the development by going public with tales of his grief and heartbreak and when the couple got back together again, they did so in a blaze of publicity.

Apparently it was Cecilia who asked for the divorce.

Today's Le Figaro newspaper praises her bravery, pointing out that "it takes some courage to chuck a president".

From now on Nicolas Sarkozy will be home alone at the Elysee.

But how curious that after weeks of speculation about the state of his marriage, the official announcement should be made on the very day when his country was crippled by public transport worker strikes - the biggest test so far of his presidency.


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