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Monday, 3 April, 2000, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
France galled by model move
The face of France: moving to London
Senior French ministers have weighed in on both sides of a heated debate over the decision by "the face of France" supermodel to move to London.

Laetitia Casta was chosen last year as the model for the bust of Marianne, the symbol of the French Republic which stands outside town halls nationwide.

The bare-breasted, bonneted Marianne was the standard bearer of the revolutionary forces of 1789 and has been a symbol of the republic ever since.

But, in a move that has caused both outrage and disappointment in France, 21-year-old Ms Casta has reportedly chosen to make the capital her main abode, apparently to avoid high French taxes.

Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix: A view of Marianne in 1830
Opposition politicians have seized on the model's cross-Channel move to attack the French Government's tax policies.

However, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, France's Minister of the Interior, said the move was likely to cost Ms Casta dear.

"Laetitia Casta will find out very fast that property prices are much higher in London and that you have to pay twice as much in rent," he said in a television interview.

"If she gets sick, and I hope she won't, the healthcare in a British hospital will be far short of French hospitals," he said.

And in a final assault on the British capital he added: "If she takes the metro, although I doubt that will happen to her, she will realise that the London metro is nothing like the quality of the Paris metro."

Casta: A fashion icon
Ms Casta, whose image will appear on French stamps and coins for the rest of the decade, has neither confirmed nor denied her plans, but she is reported in the British press as saying she wants to immerse herself in London's "Cosmopolitan culture".

"I can't see what's wrong with Marianne moving overseas," she says in the Daily Mail.

"She is the symbol of liberty and freedom. I see it as a way of promoting France abroad."

Roger-Gérard Schwartzenberg, the Minister for Research, was sufficiently shaken by the role-model's defection to agree with calls for less income tax.

Mr Schwartzenberg said: "(The Prime Minister) Lionel Jospin has said it, he has started to do it."

Brigitte Bardot was the model for an earlier incarnation of Marianne
But some of the French newspapers have been less sympathetic, attacking Ms Casta for her lack of "fiscal patriotism".

Already the members of the Association of Mayors, whose 36,000 members elected Ms Casta as France's patriotic figurehead, are being asked if they still want the Marianne busts modelled on Letitia, the first of which has just been delivered to the Hauts-de-Seine.

The mayors' brief had been to choose "a working woman of her times" encapsulating "solidarity, openness and tolerance".

Painter-sculptor Serge Chachkine, said he was so annoyed by Ms Casta's decision that he was going to sculpt a bust of Marianne that would represent "a real woman of the people," using a textile worker from his local town, as a model.

But Brigitte Bardot, herself a former model for the bust of Marianne, said Laetitia Casta was "absolutely right" to leave France for London and that if she had the courage she "would go and join her."

Ms Casta has so far said little on the affair but her father told the French newspaper Nice-Matin: "Laetitia has always liked England. She can walk in the streets, noone recognises her unless she bumps into a French person."

She is "still French," but the issue is about "the free circulation of men and merchandise," he said.

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08 Oct 99 | Europe
Model choice for French mayors
10 Sep 99 | Europe
France to pick millennium woman
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