An Italian prince waltzes into politics
Prince Emmanuel Filiberto of Savoy hopes his recent win in Italy's 'Dancing With the Stars' will ignite a political career in his homeland.
His family was not even allowed to set foot on Italian soil until 2003. But one of Italy's formerly exiled royals hopes that an unlikely win on a reality TV show will catapult him toward a political career and restore the honor of his once illustrious family.Skip to next paragraph
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Emmanuel Filiberto of Savoy, the grandson of Italy's last king, waltzed his way into millions of living rooms – and into the affections of his countrymen – on the Italian equivalent of "Dancing with the Stars."
Dressed in tight black trousers matched with a clashing red tie and striped waistcoat, the prince won the final round of "Ballando con le Stelle" – "Dancing with the Stars" – a program that pairs B-grade celebrities with professional dancers, who teach them how to cha-cha and tango.
Paired with a glamorous Russian dancer, the prince won 75 percent of the phone-in votes in the grand finale of the popular show in March.
Now, the rumba-dancing royal plans to use his victory as a launching pad for entering politics and restoring the tarnished image of his family, which was banished into exile when Italy voted to become a republic after World War II.
"I had no idea about dancing when I started," says the prince, who has spent most of his life in Switzerland and works as a banking consultant.
"I think Italians discovered someone that they'd not known before – someone authentic and respectful."
In early April, the prince swapped his sequin-studded dancing outfits for a sober blue jacket and black polo when he visited victims of Italy's devastating earthquake.
Warming up to politics
In true budding politician style, he shook hands with rescue workers, comforted homeless survivors, and gave interviews to TV crews in the devastated town of L'Aquila.
"I cannot contain my emotion over this tragedy," he said. "All Italians should show unity – this is a good time for brotherhood and solidarity."
Now his plan is to put himself forward as a candidate to become one of Italy's members of the European Parliament in Brussels.He is seeking backing from a center-right party – either the People of Freedom bloc of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, or the smaller Democratic Union of the Centre.
Does he count Mr. Berlusconi, the media mogul and self-made billionaire who is into his third term as prime minister, as a friend? "Friend is a big word, but I've met him several times," he says. "He's a person who I respect a great deal."
But Prince Emmanuel's political ambitions reach far beyond Brussels. He says he could one day see himself reaching the very apex of Italian politics, prime minister.
"Why not?" he asks. "I'll take things slowly, and we'll see what will happen. I would like a role in Italy – whether it is as an MP or as prime minister, it's for the people to decide."
Dancing the cha-cha is one thing, but forging a political career in a country that turned its back on its royal family more than 60 years ago will require some fancy footwork.
Youth and good looks may carry him so far, but the prince – whose title is not recognized in Italy, as the monarchy was abolished by referendum in 1946 – has far to go to rehabilitate the name of the House of Savoy.
In fact, his TV success was a rare public-relations coup for the Savoys. Two years ago, they made themselves deeply unpopular with Italians by demanding $365 million in compensation for losing their titles, property, and land. The claim reopened old wounds and caused such outrage that the family was forced to drop it.