- By Kavitha SuranaKavitha Surana is a fellow at Foreign Policy. She has reported from Italy, Germany, and Senegal and her stories have been published in the past by the Associated Press, Quartz, Al Jazeera, CNN, GlobalPost and OZY. She holds a joint master’s degree in journalism and European and Mediterranean studies from New York University.
Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi turns 80 on Thursday, and it seems the perennially in-motion politician is finally taking a step back to reflect on his two decades in the political limelight.
“In my life, I’ve never thought about age, I’ve always lived as if I was 40, because that’s how I felt,” he said in a cozy interview to celebrate the occasion with tabloid magazine Chi, one of his many media holdings. “Then I suddenly got sick, and, with the operation, I came to the strong realization that I’m an 80-year-old man.”
The former prime minister, known for his orange-hued skin color, soap opera-level sex scandals, and frankly awful turns of phrase about peers — including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama — celebrated quietly with his five children, 10 grandchildren and 31-year-old girlfriend. An old buddy, Russian President Vladimir Putin, even called to wish him happy birthday.
For years an unshakable dealmaker on Italy’s political scene, Berlusconi has lately taken a backseat, after he was barred from holding public office for tax fraud and embezzlement in 2013. A heart surgery this summer forced him further out of the political churn and onto the sidelines.
But in the interview the entrepreneur sounded calm, even blasé, about his waning political influence.
“Politics was never really my passion,” he said diffidently. “All it did was make me lose a huge amount of time and energy.”
Twice divorced, Berlusconi also admitted to neglecting his family for his career, and promised to dedicate more attention to his loved ones from here on out. However, he did describe his relationship with his eldest daughter Marina as particularly close: “When my mother died, I substituted her with Marina,” Berlusconi told Chi. “Today Marina is a mother, sister and daughter for me.”
His wild “bunga-bunga” sex parties would presumably be a top regret for Berlusconi, whose political star plummeted in 2011 after being accused of paying for sex with a minor and abuse of office. He was eventually acquitted.
But Berlusconi said it was, in fact, soccer that holds first place among the things he might do differently in life. He told the magazine his “one regret” was not putting enough energy into developing his team, AC Milan, which he recently sold to Chinese investors.
“If Milan has not done as well as before these past years, it is because I have not had the time to personally take care of it,” he said, referring to the team. He blamed the oversight on spending too many hours combatting the many investigations and scandals that have dogged him over the years.
Italy’s current prime minister — the brash, fresh-faced 41-year-old Matteo Renzi — couldn’t help making a jab at his predecessor’s legacy. “I think Berlusconi will be remembered 300 years from now for the things he did in football, publishing, and television,” he said. “In politics he will above all be remembered for the things he did not do.”
Still, Berlusconi’s recent slowdown doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t manage to resurrect as a powerful player in Italy’s political negotiations, as he has succeeded in doing many times before. He continues to have a strong personal following, and there’s no clear successor with the same magnetism in his party, Forza Italia.
For now, he’s playing coy on his next steps. “I look towards the future, still uncertain about what it may have in store,” he told the magazine.
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