PARIS (AFP) – Cecilia Sarkozy, whose husband Nicolas was elected Sunday as France’s new president, is a fiercely independent former model and PR executive unlikely to fit easily into the discreet role of first lady. I don’t see myself as a first lady. It bores me. I prefer going round in combat trousers and cowboy boots. I don’t fit the mould," the elegant 49-year-old brunette has said. Her arrival at the Elysee will certainly send in a blast of modernity after 12 years of the Chiracs, whose bourgeois respectability sat well with the Louis XV furniture of the 18th century palace. Like the defeated Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, Cecilia and her husband are in a relationship that flies in the face of presidential convention but which in many ways reflects the changing sociology of France.

Of Jewish-Spanish ancestry, Cecilia’s foreign roots match those of Sarkozy, who is half Hungarian and quarter Jewish. In 2004 she made a point of saying she did "not have a drop of French blood in my veins."Cecilia was conspicuously absent from Sarkozy’s election campaign — setting tongues wagging and reawakening memories of 2005 when the couple split for several months.As if to quell the gossip, she was photographed voting with Sarkozy and celebrating his victory in round one two weeks ago, but was again absent from his side when he voted in the decisive second round on Sunday.

When Sarkozy entered government in 2002, Cecilia had an office in the interior ministry, but in early 2005 she disappeared from view and it was revealed she had left him for an advertising executive in New York.

Picture of President elect Sarkozy, Nicolas Sarkozy (2R), France’s UMP political party presidential candidate, poses with his wife Cecilia (2L), and her daughters Judith (L) and Jeanne-Marie Martin (R) as they leave a polling station in Neuilly-sur-Seine near Paris, April 22, 2007. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer (FRANCE)

A few months later they were reconciled.

In his autobiography, Sarkozy said the experience left him "profoundly shaken. Even today I find it hard to talk about it."

He also tacitly admitted that he had pushed their relationship in the media, saying he had "overly exposed her."

Cecilia met Nicolas Sarkozy in 1984 when he officiated as mayor at her first wedding. According to a recent biography, he was infatuated by her on the spot and pursued her till their marriage 12 years later.

By then he had also been married and divorced. Together they had four children from their first marriages — she two girls, he two boys — and in 1997 they had a son of their own, Louis.

Despite her protestations about not fitting the mould of first lady, and despite the rumours of marital problems, family friends insist the couple are still together and that Cecilia intends to join him at the Elysee — possibly acting as a communications adviser.

"They have had their problems but she is hugely important to him. She protects him," said one friend who asked not to be named. "She will take on the role of first lady. A bit like Bernadette Chirac — but a different Bernadette: one who knows what’s going on."