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Thursday, September 9, 1999 Published at 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK

World: Europe

France to pick millennium woman

Actresses, models and singers are on the Marianne shortlist

France's 36,000 mayors are deciding on the new Marianne, the female figure symbolising the French republic.

As part of its millennium celebrations, France is picking a new ideal woman to represent the values of the 21st century.

The figure of Marianne was invented as a national symbol to replace the king during the French revolution.

The woman chosen will be represented in busts all across the country, replacing actress Catherine Deneuve, who has served as the official model since 1985.

Celebrity shortlist

The mayors have five celebrity women to choose from.

[ image: Model Estelle Halliday: hoping to follow path of Brigitte Bardot]
Model Estelle Halliday: hoping to follow path of Brigitte Bardot
They include singer Patricia Kaas, actress Laetitia Casta, television journalist Daniela Lumbroso, model Estelle Halliday and windsurfer turned television host, Nathalie Simon.

Their brief is to select the person who best combines the spirit of the 21st century with the traditional values of the republic.

The new Marianne will represent "solidarity, openness and tolerance," along with the celebrated "liberty, equality and fraternity."

Familiar faces

The mayors have been given photographs of the five women along with a short personal statement.

[ image: Singer Patricia Kaas: Would be proud to represent France]
Singer Patricia Kaas: Would be proud to represent France
At 21, Laetitia Casta is the youngest. She is the star of the French film Asterix, based on the popular comic book Gallic hero.

As a top model Estelle Halliday - daughter in law of singer Johnny Halliday - has precedent on her side. Catherine Deneuve's predecessors were Brigitte Bardot and Mireille Mathieu.

Singer Patricia Kaas says she stands for the values of "hard work, courage and devotion".

Nathalie Simon is a former windsurfing champion who now presents several television shows. She says she is "prepared to represent the woman of today, ready for anything with no preconceptions."

Journalist Daniela Lumbroso is the only one who does not revel in the limlight of showbiz.

A trained sociologist, she is a television producer who claims to be "switched on to her times".


But the tradition of picking a famous personality as a national symbol has also attracted criticism.

Some pundits feel it would be better to represent the figure anonymously, to avoid any clash of ideals.

"Personalising the symbol with a celebrity runs the risk of seeing that person express an opinion that would break with national consensus," Maurice Agulhon, a "Marianne expert" was quoted as saying.

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