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Bunga-bunga to Bush: Berlusconi book's best bits


From the origins of the term "bunga-bunga" to his friendship with some of the world's most high-profile and controversial leaders, a new biography of Italian billionaire and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi details some of his most memorable moments.

The book on the 79-year old politician and self-styled irrepressible playboy is entitled "My Way: Berlusconi in his own words," written by journalist Alan Friedman.

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The U.K.'s Telegraph newspaper published a series of highlights from the book this week, and CNBC highlights some of the best bits:

Berlusconi and Angela Merkel

Relations between Berlusconi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel could never have been called warm.

Known for his gaffes with world leaders (he once remarked about U.S. President Barack Obama being "suntanned"), relations between Berlusconi and the German leader soured after he apparently told a news editor in 2011 that she was an "un****able lard –****."

In the new biography, he denies ever making the remark.

The Iraq War

While Berlusconi was good at offending world leaders, he has often tried to win friends and influence them in good turn. One influential friend of Berlusconi's was former U.S. President George Bush. Berlusconi recalls a time when he tried to deter Bush from going to war with Iraq and its then-leader Saddam Hussein in 2003.

"I was very worried," Berlusconi is quoted as saying in the biography. "I wanted to try to change [George W] Bush's mind. I was looking for an alternative to the invasion of Iraq. I was trying to think of a country in which Saddam could go into exile, a way out in order to avoid war."

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"So I contacted Gaddafi and we discussed the possibility of Libya accepting Saddam. We spoke about it half a dozen times, between the end of 2002 and the start of 2003. And I almost managed to convince him to take Saddam."

Berlusconi said Bush would have "accepted (the idea), had there been enough time [to persuade Saddam to step down]."

On women

No biography of Berlusconi could be complete without referring to women. Indeed, the female of the species could be said to be one of his biggest weaknesses and one that has got him into very hot water – and nearly prison – in the past.

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Known for hosting lavish parties in his Milanese villa, tales of orgies have often filled newspaper columns. An unsubstantiated tale of prostitutes dressed up as nuns at a party is one of the more memorable news reports that has only added to Berlusconi's reputation as a bon vivant and Casanova.

In 2013, however, the party seemed to be over when Berlusconi was convicted of paying for sex with an underage Moroccan prostitute, Karima El-Mahroug, who became known as Ruby Rubacuori (Ruby the Heartstealer). Both Berlusconi and Mahroug denied the charges. Berlusconi was acquitted in 2014.

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"I'm a natural-born seducer! More than a great seducer, I have been very often seduced," he says in the new biography.

Apparently even Berlusconi has his limits, however. Being asked a few years back whether he had a harem of 30 or more actresses and call-girls lodged around Milan, Berlusconi said: "I'm 74 years old and even though I'm a bit of a rascal, the idea of 33 girls in two months seems to me a bit much, even for a man of 30."


Continuing on the theme of women and partying, Berlusconi's parties became infamously known as "bunga bunga" sex parties among the international press.

Berlusconi explains in the book where the phrase originally came from. Again, the description features another of his controversial friends, Muammar al-Gaddafi, the former leader of Libya, killed in an uprising in 2011.

It started as a joke he recounted to Gaddafi, Berlusconi said.

"A pair of Italian politicians are captured by a fierce African tribe and tied to poles. A tribal leader says to one of the Italians: 'You, do you want to die or bunga bunga?'"

The politician chooses the second option. But bunga-bunga turns out to mean forced intercourse. "All the warriors in the village did him," said Berlusconi, laughing as he recounted the joke, Friedman writes.

"The tribal leader then approaches the second Italian and asks the same question. The terrified Italian says: "I'd prefer to die." The tribesman replies: "Fine, you will die, but first let's do some bunga bunga!"

"It's from this joke that the whole bunga bunga thing came from," Berlusconi said.

- By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt. Follow us on Twitter: @CNBCWorld