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Sarkozy Outs Himself As Céline Dion Fan

Jun 2, 2008
Thankfully nobody broke into song but emotions were running high on Thursday as the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, bestowed this country's highest honour, the Légion d'honneur, on the Canadian chanteuse Céline Dion.

The ceremony took place at the president's official residence, the Elysée palace; the day after Dion had opened a series of sold-out concerts in the French capital - the first time she has performed in Paris since 1999.

In what might have been a speech inspired by listening to a few too many of her songs, Sarkozy waxed lyrical in his praise for Dion who has released albums in both English and French. He thanked her for "making the French language shine abroad" and extolled the power of her music.

"Love has an essential place in our lives and has had a particular importance in your artistic career," he said.

"There is only one way to love - totally - and there can be no embarrassment in sharing that. It's a refreshing change," he added.

For once a visibly moved Dion, who normally talks at nineteen-to-the-dozen, seemed almost lost for words. But don't pause for breath too long as that obviously didn't prevent her from being as effusive as ever in accepting the award.

"To receive this from your hands monsieur le president is a great honour. It's very difficult to express exactly what it means to a simple girl from Champagne, Quebec such as me," she gushed.

The Elysée was fair awash with Dions as the singer went on to thank her mother, her husband (and agent) René Angelil, their son René-Charles, as well as the whole gaggle of her brothers and sisters - all 13 of them - who were present at the ceremony. She also paid tribute to her father, who died five years ago.

"He would have been proud to see his little girl, his last child, acclaimed in this way by France," she said.

The Légion d'honneur was created in 1802 by Napoleon as an order of merit to recognise "outstanding services rendered to France or a feat befitting humanity."

And in the past it was limited to intellectual greats, artists, and in general those who had made what was considered an "important" historical contribution.

But many of the more recent recipients have tended to come from the ranks of show business and Dion joins Sean Connery, Barbra Streisand, Clint Eastwood and Johnny Hallyday to name just a few among - some would say far too - many other celebrities.

Purists naturally remain pretty sniffy about the award and some cynics in France have suggested that by bestowing this latest honour, Sarkozy was taking the opportunity to show that he has similar tastes to the masses.

That would not only be somewhat small-minded - after all he has held back somewhat on the Bling Bling glitz and glamour of his presidency recently - but also wrong.

In fact Sarkozy had nothing whatsoever to do with Dion's selection. He was merely in the right place at the right time to confer the honour

Dion was apparently awarded it three years ago - but depending on which report you might believe she a) never had the time to pop over to Paris to receive it because she was too busy wowing her fans and playing to full houses in Las Vegas. Or b) didn't find out about it until just over one month ago.

It was a busy week for Sarkozy in terms of handing out awards. On Wednesday he also upgraded US film director Steven Spielberg to the highest order of the Légion d'honneur.
About the Author
Johnny Summerton is a Paris-based broadcaster, writer and journalist specialising in politics, sport and travel. For more on what's making the headlines here in France, log on to his site at http://www.persiflagefrance.com
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