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British pomp greets Sarkozy and wife on state visit

WINDSOR (Reuters) - A beaming French President Nicolas Sarkozy, flanked by his model wife Carla Bruni, was greeted with pomp by Queen Elizabeth on Wednesday for the first French state visit in more than a decade.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth walks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy following the Guard of Honour review at Windsor Castle in Windsor, southern England March 26, 2008. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty

Thousands of people gathered on the streets of Windsor to welcome France’s glamorous first couple, whose visit comes weeks after they married following a high-profile, whirlwind romance.

Many well-wishers said they had come to see not only the Queen but also Bruni, a former fashion model born in Italy who has also enjoyed a successful career as a singer and songwriter.

Dressed in a demure gray coat and wearing a small, stylish hat, Bruni smiled politely and curtsied as she shook hands with the Queen and then chatted animatedly with the monarch’s 86-year-old husband, Prince Philip.

As a band played and flags were waved, the French couple and the Queen and Prince Philip were taken into the grounds of Windsor Castle in horse-drawn carriages, where they inspected a parade of marching royal guardsmen.

The couple will spend the night at the castle, just outside of London.

The visit comes at a crucial time for Sarkozy, who is battling accusations at home that he is a “bling bling” president more concerned with a flashy lifestyle than getting a grip on the French economy and other weighty issues.

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Some British newspapers had greeted the arrival of France’s head of state by publishing pictures of his wife posing naked for a fashion shoot more than 15 years ago.

Before his arrival, 53-year-old Sarkozy told British media he hoped the visit would emphasize what the two countries have in common while also tightening business and other ties.

The Queen, who speaks fluent French, and Sarkozy, who speaks little English, chatted politely as they walked in the courtyard of Windsor Castle, while multi-lingual Bruni and Prince Philip were more animated in their discussions.

As they stood in a line, Bruni, who is 5 foot 9 inches (1.75 meters) tall, towered over her husband, who at around 5 foot 5 inches is much closer in height to the Queen.

Bystanders were thrilled at the spectacle.

“We came down specially from the north so the kids could see the Queen,” said Mark Stickles, accompanied by one son waving flags and another with a Darth Vader light saber.

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Colombian student Dimitry Alejo, 18, said: “It is great to see the Queen and the president at the same time at Windsor Castle. They are even giving out free flags for us to wave.”

But most eyes and cameras were on Bruni, who Sarkozy married just four months after he divorced his second wife Cecilia.

After months of often damaging headlines at home, Sarkozy may be hoping that images of him in royal surroundings, will stand him in better stead.

(Editing by Keith Weir)

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