Elevated from call girl to parliamentary candidate but then ostracised by those who feared she would reveal her secrets, Patrizia D’Addario’s story as the escort who went public about her night with Silvio Berlusconi has aspects of a soap opera.
There is also a dark side to the experience of the 42-year-old single mother who sees herself as part of the “system” in Italy, where businessmen pay women to entertain politicians.
Slideshow: the lurid allegations threatening to overshadow Berlusconi’s premiership
“The system is like that. All of Italy functions like this,” Ms D’Addario says in a matter-of-fact way, speaking to the Financial Times in her home town of Bari, a southern port that has gone a long way to clean up its corrupt gangland reputation.
A slim blonde in a low-cut, polka-dot summer dress worn for a seafront photo-shoot, Ms D’Addario speaks in the office of her lawyer, who occasionally offers advice. Ms D’Addario says she has gone public to protect herself. “I had the same experience with other businessmen. Other businessmen asked me to charm politicians,” she reveals, without giving names. Asked if the politicians were from the left or right, she says it is the “same thing”.
The scandal that has gripped Italy and shaken Mr Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition might not have come to light if it had not been for the secret recordings she says she made of her conversations with the media baron and prime minister in his Rome residence, partying on the night of last year’s US elections.
She kept knowledge of the tapes to herself for months, but recounts that she let slip their existence in a telephone conversation with an acquaintance. Not long afterwards, on May 18, her flat was burgled. The unknown intruders took her dresses, including the short black one she wore at the Rome party, underwear, compact discs and photographs given to her by Mr Berlusconi.
She suspects they were looking for the recordings which were not taken.
Meanwhile, Giampaolo Tarantini, a Bari businessman who runs a prosthetics company and had introduced her and other women to the prime minister, had put her forward – she says with Mr Berlusconi’s approval – as a candidate for the European elections in June. Mr Tarantini does not deny the introduction.
In a land where contacts and “recommendations” often outweigh merit, Ms D’Addario looked set to follow the path of fame and generous pay enjoyed by other glamorous women promoted in Mr Berlusconi’s entertainment-meets-politics world.
But her future as a Euro MP was derailed when Veronica Lario, Mr Berlusconi’s actress wife, denounced her husband on May 3. Ms Lario said she wanted a divorce, accused him of having a relationship with a Naples teenager and deplored his use of women in politics.
As a result, Ms D’Addario claims she was demoted and became a candidate in local elections for Puglia First of All, a regional party linked to Mr Berlusconi’s People of Liberty. But on May 31, she says, security guards accompanying Mr Berlusconi to a press conference for election candidates in Bari barred her from entering.
Frightened and angry, she says she pulled out of the campaign. Barbara Montereale, another “hostess” who launched her political career entertaining Mr Berlusconi, continued as a candidate.
Ms D’Addario was then called to answer questions by a Bari public prosecutor who was investigating Mr Tarantini on suspicion of corruption. He was also suspected of procurement of prostitutes. He has not been charged and denies wrongdoing in both cases.
Ms D’Addario, “to protect myself”, later went to the media, but insists she did not leak her recordings, which were later posted on the internet. She says she was also driven to tell her tale because Mr Berlusconi had broken a promise to her.
The escort, who says she met Mr Berlusconi twice, says she sought his help, and told him her family had been blocked by local officials from modifying building permission given for a property. The affair had led to her father’s suicide, leaving her to fend for her daughter and mother, and deciding to seek work as an escort. “He [Mr Berlusconi] promised to speed up the project by sending two people but they never came,” she says.
The prime minister initially dismissed Ms D’Addario’s claims. Later, he said he could not remember her. After the alleged recordings were posted on the net, he joked: “I am not a saint.”
On Wednesday, his office said he had nothing more to say in response to Ms D’Addario’s allegations.
Escort agencies no longer offer work to Ms D’Addario who senses she has been shunned for breaking the code of discretion.
“I am the only one who told the truth,” she says of the score of women with her at Mr Berlusconi’s party last November. “If others tell the truth perhaps there is hope of the system changing. If no one speaks, who will change the system?”
Her claims of extensive corruption are likely to resonate around Italy’s business community. In the meantime, fresh investigations in Bari are focusing on the suspected corruption of centre-left politicians involved in awarding health contracts.
As for Mr Berlusconi, he is riding out the storm, although polls indicate his standing has slipped, and aides say he is weakened.