What’s the Italian for sleazeball? Italy’s prime minister dumped her partner after he was caught on tape boasting of an affair and asking for a threesome… But was the recording leaked by her enemies in the Berlusconi clan?
By anyone’s standards, it was a lewd and crass request. ‘Can I touch my crotch while I talk to you?’ the Italian TV host asked a woman backstage on his current affairs show.
He went on: ‘You know that [a colleague] and I are having an affair? Everyone here knows it. Now you do, too. But we are looking for a third participant because we do threesomes and even foursomes.’
It was jaw-dropping stuff — and all the more shocking because the individual wasn’t just any old creep. The extravagantly bequiffed presenter was Andrea Giambruno, the First Gentleman of Italy, partner of the Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and father to her daughter Ginevra.
To make matters worse, this tawdry exchange was just one of many such interactions. To Meloni’s humiliation and fury last week, multiple ‘hot mic’ recordings — conversations that took place when Giambruno didn’t realise his microphone was still on — revealed his true character.
Multiple ‘hot mic’ recordings — conversations that took place when Giambruno didn’t realise his microphone was still on — revealed the true character of Andrea Giambruno, the partner of the Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni
He rubbed the arm of Viviana Guglielmi (pictured), while admiring her outfit. ‘Why didn’t I meet you sooner?’ he asked, patting her head and wondering if she was in a better mood than the day before
His antics were just as repulsive on camera. In one animated display caught on film, he struts around the set, talking at great speed, sniffing from time to time, swearing often and grabbing his crotch for rhetorical emphasis.
He boasts of his luscious hair, which he also keeps touching, before alighting on his co-presenter sitting at her desk.
He rubs the arm of Viviana Guglielmi, while admiring her outfit. ‘Why didn’t I meet you sooner?’ he asked, patting her head and wondering if she was in a better mood than the day before.
But, perhaps because of his position as the PM’s partner, or simply because they were biding their time, nobody had called out his sleazy behaviour — until now.
With the scandal having engulfed Italian politics, Giambruno’s past has come under unprecedented scrutiny and what has come to light raises intriguing questions.
Despite graduating in philosophy from Milan’s Catholic university in 2003, one of Giambruno’s first jobs was as chauffeur to one of the most controversial characters in Italian showbusiness, Lele Mora.
‘Lele Mora was like a Pope in Italy,’ says one TV insider. ‘He was the agent of many, many stars.’
Giambruno repeatedly heaped praise on one person in particular: a leggy blonde TV presenter called Simona Branchetti (pictured)
He was also an intimate associate of the late billionaire businessman and Mediaset boss Silvio Berlusconi. Most of the beautiful young starlets who appeared on Mediaset’s TV channels, and those who serviced the former serial prime minister at his Bunga Bunga orgies, were sourced by Mora.
Indeed, it was Mora who introduced the permatanned politician to Karima El Mahroug, the underage (17-year-old) courtesan known as Ruby The Heartstealer, who was the focus of a legal case that brought down the Bunga Bunga empire — and led to Mora’s conviction for aiding and abetting prostitution.
The conviction was just one of a number of criminal trials he has been embroiled in. He has been convicted of drug-dealing, tax evasion and false bankruptcy. Mora himself is gay. In 1975, he opened one of the first gay night-clubs in Italy — the Lele Club in Verona — and he was romantically involved with many of the young men who worked for him (including a notorious gossip columnist called Fabrizio Corona).
It’s not known exactly what Giambruno did for Mora beyond his exploits behind the wheel. No one is suggesting that he had anything to do with procuring girls but working so closely with the showbiz Svengali, Giambruno cannot have failed to witness the sordid intersection of politics, prostitution and showbusiness.
And it certainly didn’t deter him. He seems to have found his natural home in this empire of sleaze, going on to work for Berlusconi’s trashy TV channels — presumably with Mora’s help — where his rise was meteoric.
One of his first jobs was with one of Mora’s ‘boys’, Alfonso Signorini. As the host of the Italian version of Big Brother and one-time editor of Berlusconi’s gossip magazine, Chi — Italian for ‘Who’ — Signorini is now the most powerful man in Mediaset.
It soon looked as if Giambruno was in for a stellar career. He moved from show to show and, evidently realising that a political ally would help his TV career, shrewdly hitched himself to a rising politician from the country’s neo-Fascist party, Fratelli d’Italia — the blonde, ruthlessly ambitious Giorgia Meloni.
Meloni and Giambruno are said to have first met in a TV studio in 2014 when she was booked to appear on a chat show. The story goes that she was famished, asked for something to eat during an ad break and was given a banana.
Unfortunately, she was still holding the remains of it when the show went live again and it was Giambruno who rushed forward and snatched it off her. It was, he said, love at first sight.
But her relationship with the womanising Giambruno was always fiery.
She once told an interviewer: ‘I don’t physically attack, except when I’m jealous. That happens every now and again.’
Since the scandal broke, Giambruno’s Mediaset colleagues have been less than flattering about him, with one describing the presenter as a ‘smarmy boor’
She told another interviewer that she frequently snooped on her partner’s mobile phone: ‘If men have done something wrong, you know it because they just don’t know how to cover it up. Even if they’ve deleted a text message I start doing all the research. I look at the phone calls from a week before, all the photos…’
And, being PM, she had more resources than most suspicious girlfriends when it comes to keeping tabs on her lover. She has admitted to using the security services to check up on Giambruno, a flagrant misuse of power.
‘I call the secret service,’ she said. ‘I even have a friend at the Ministry of the Interior called Matteo Salvini. I ask him: ‘Listen, excuse me, I need printouts of these phone records’.’
But one possible sign of her lover’s philandering was hiding in plain sight. Giambruno wrote a column for the Italian daily newspaper Il Tempo under the pseudonym Arnaldo Magro.
He was outed as the author of the column in May and, in the aftermath of this week’s scandal, the Italian gossip website, Dagospia, trawled through his columns and discovered that Giambruno repeatedly heaped praise on one person in particular: a leggy blonde TV presenter called Simona Branchetti.
‘She’s the goose that lays the golden egg,’ he wrote, praising her ‘crazy’ viewing figures and drooling about how she was ‘beautiful but above all able’.
Many now assume that she was the lover he had boasted about in the off-air recordings but Branchetti herself has denied it.
Jealousy was not the only serpent in Meloni’s paradise, however. Her political base is the resolutely Right-wing end of the political spectrum and her motto, borrowed from Benito Mussolini, is ‘God, Fatherland, Family’. But Giambruno openly disagreed with her about gay rights and soft drugs, perhaps because of the time he had spent in Mora’s company.
Even after their daughter’s birth in 2016 he was reluctant to settle down to family life. ‘I have a gypsy heart,’ he said earlier this month. It didn’t help that, while Meloni was based in Rome, he worked — and often stayed — in Milan until the beginning of September this year when, ironically, Mediaset moved production of his show, Diario Del Giorno (Daily Diary), to the capital.
Since the scandal broke, Giambruno’s Mediaset colleagues have been less than flattering about him, with one describing the presenter as a ‘smarmy boor’.
They expressed astonishment that he was trusted to front a serious news programme in the aftermath of his partner’s electoral victory in September 2022. Not only was he too lightweight, it was a clear conflict of interest. Meloni is often accused of lacking gravitas too. In one particularly unedifying election video, she bounced two large melons on her chest, urging people to vote for a surname that means ‘melons’.
After Meloni’s election as Prime Minister, Giambruno’s arrogance knew no bounds. But it quickly became apparent that, for all his swagger, Giambruno’s rise had far outstripped his talent.
He made countless gaffes that embarrassed Meloni and her government. After the German Health Minister blamed the sweltering heat he experienced during his holiday in Tuscany in July on climate change, Giambruno said: ‘You don’t like the heat in Italy? Stay in the Black Forest.’
A month later, during a discussion about two gang rapes in southern Italy, Giambruno argued that women would be more safe ‘if you avoid getting drunk and losing your senses’.
He was becoming, says the TV insider, a ‘spaccone’, a braggart. He clearly grew to believe that his status as the prime minister’s partner — and his role as a TV star in his own right — made him untouchable and he removed all remaining brakes on his off-the-cuff opinions and lechery.
But he lacked the political intelligence to realise that he was a pawn in the chess game between two powerhouses of Italian politics: Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia party and the late Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. Although coalition partners, Meloni and her former mentor Berlusconi grew profoundly suspicious of each other.
Berlusconi, who had once been the colossus of Italian politics, found his party relegated to third place in Meloni’s coalition.
To have been usurped by a young blonde, a species he viewed as playthings not politicians, drove him to distraction.
On one occasion, aware that his actions would be picked up by the parliamentary TV cameras, he wrote on a piece of paper in block capitals what he thought of Meloni: ‘Opinionated, overbearing, arrogant, insulting, ridiculous… no willingness to change, she is someone you cannot get along with.’ He later said threateningly: ‘Her man [Giambruno] is my employee.’
After his death in June this year, everyone spoke warmly of the old rascal and Meloni’s government agreed to give Berlusconi a state funeral. Flags flew at half-mast on government buildings, a gesture designed to keep both Berlusconi’s party and his all-powerful media empire, Mediaset, onside.
But over the summer, the relationship again turned sour. In a surprise move, Meloni’s government announced it would tax the big banks’ windfall profits from high interest rates.
The Berlusconi family, which owns Banca Mediolanum, a venerable Milanese bank, was livid. They hadn’t been consulted and began sharpening their knives.
Italy is a land of conspiracy theories and there are dozens of versions of what happened next. It’s possible that the Berlusconi family gave the green light to the dissemination of Giambruno’s hideously embarrassing hot mic episode in order to deliberately wound Meloni.
The Berlusconis have form for such behaviour, regularly stitching up rival politicians with revelations about their peccadilloes.
Yet many in Italy believe the recordings were released with Meloni’s, and her party’s, consent. The timing is telling, with the cringe-inducing videos finally broadcast days after Giambruno had announced, in an interview with Chi: ‘For as long as we keep getting asked, we won’t marry.’
He added, rather unchivalrously: ‘I don’t take advice or orders from anyone. My quiff will increase with my viewing figures.’
The whole interview dripped with entitlement, as if he considered himself above the Prime Minister. Perhaps Meloni read it and, allegedly aware of the contents of the recordings since September, decided to cut him loose. Perhaps her colleagues warned her Giambruno was becoming a liability.
Within days of the out-takes being aired, Meloni had publicly dumped her man, announcing on social media: ‘My relationship with Andrea Giambruno ends here. Our paths have diverged for some time and the time has come to acknowledge it.’ She said she would remain a ‘rock’ despite the drip-drip of revelations about her ex.
As well as a personal crisis, the scandal is also becoming a political one for Meloni. If she finds herself in the cross-hairs of Berlusconi’s vindictive media empire, she’s in deep trouble. And unless Forza Italia and Fratelli d’Italia can patch up their differences, her government is likely to last only months, not years.
Whatever one’s politics, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for Meloni, who has frequently spoken about her emotionally turbulent childhood. Her mother, a prolific writer of erotic novels, once confessed that she had planned to have Meloni aborted and only changed her mind on her way to the clinic.
Her father, a communist, walked out on the family when she was two years old, moving to the Canary Islands and having four more children before being sentenced to nine years for drug-trafficking.
It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to trace her hatred of Communism and her yearning for — and politicisation of — ‘family’ to that early trauma. She longed for a stable domestic set-up, complete with resident father, for her own daughter.
As for Giambruno, he did what many people do when dumped. The man who recently asked: ‘Is it forbidden to have white teeth and thick hair?’ went for a radical hair cut.
The quiff — his former pride and joy — is no more.
Meloni may hope that, like Samson in the Old Testament, Giambruno’s sensual vitality will die with the loss of his luscious locks.
- Tobias Jones lives in Parma, northern Italy. He’s the author of Ultra: The Underworld Of Italian Football.
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