Silvio Berlusconi might just be the oiliest man alive. Yes, there’s the rictus grin like an Alfa Romeo salesman; the dubious slicked-back hairline in a dubious shade of chocolate; the rubberised apricot face scaffolded by botox; the grasping, greasing palms. But there’s something else there, too — a base slipperiness, an effortless slither. Like some fluid comic book shapeshifter disappearing from a prison cell through the keyhole — you simply can’t contain the man, or pin a charge to him. Every time you think he’s been flushed down the plug hole (a tax evasion charge here, an underage prostitute there), he shoots back up, more powerful than ever. He is irrepressible — a human oil spill. And now he’s back.
After a few years in the (relative) wilderness, Silvio Berlusconi (the cruise ship singer turned media billionaire turned four-time Italian premier) is now being hailed as a ‘kingmaker’ once more by the Italian press. His centre-right party, Forza Italia, may be floundering at just 7.5% in the polls. But with a rift widening between the two parties of the ruling coalition (which holds a wafer thin majority in parliament), Berlusconi’s MEP’s votes could now be the crucial factor in government business. Berlusconi, that old dog, holds some pretty handy cards.
What’s more, the 83-year-old is making manoeuvres in the splashy Italian tabloids, too — stepping out with a new 30-year-old girlfriend last week (she’s a doppelganger, bizarrely, for Lady Gaga) and showing that the old bull has not yet been put out to pasture. The king of Bunga Bunga has returned, in short. So it’s worth remembering how he got here — and the gaffes, bawdy remarks and offensive comments he’s made along the way.
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