Driving along the Mediterranean coast from Monaco earlier this week, the big news we heard on reaching Saint Tropez was that its most illustrious citizen, Brigitte Bardot, has threatened to quit her French Riviera home, the sprawling La Madrague property that overlooks the sea. She said shed ask for Russian citizenship if the Lyon city zoo goes ahead with plans to put two sick elephants to sleep. Already French actor Gerard Depardieu taking up citizenship outside the country to avoid Frances high wealth tax laws has started a row. Brigitte wrote to French president Francois Hollande to rescue these elephants who were exiled from a circus for bad behaviour three years ago. Even an Internet petition has collected over 70,000 signatures to save the elephants. The Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals has offered to pay for their removal, expensive veterinary treatment, quarantine and upkeep in Saint Tropez.
The unpretentious fishing village of Saint Tropez was the first town Operation Dragoon liberated during World War II. Its agreeable, light-filled climate inspired and attracted writers and painters like Matisse, Pierre Bonnard and Albert Marquet. The painting styles of pointillism and Fauvism emerged at Saint Tropez. But it was the sex-kitten labelled Brigitte Bardot phenomenon that definitively changed St Tropez. Her coveted presence snatched away Monte Carlos glitterati image to turn St Tropez into the new jet-set destination for the worlds whos who.
Brigittes family had a vacation home in St Tropez. At age 15 she was selected as cover girl of French Elle magazine. Film director Roger Vadim noticed, zeroed in to marry her. His 1956 controversial film And God Made Woman, with Brigitte playing an immoral, small-town French Riviera teenage girl who had a sensational effect on men, catapulted her into international stardom. Her luscious screen image with pouting lips, wild eyes and scantily clad flirtatious postures zapped the world. She won all-time global success, especially from the US. I owe everything to the Americans, she says although Hollywood never succeeded in luring her there.
Her love life of four marriages and famous liaisons, including with artist Pablo Picasso, sculptor Miroslav Brozek, singer-composer Serge Gainsbourg, was as colourful as her eventful 47-films career, many musical shows and 50 songs. She has starred in films by renowned directors like Jean Luc Godard, Louis Malle and acted with notable actors like Jacques Charrier, her second husband, Sean Connery, Kirk Douglas, Alain Delon among others. During her torrid affair with the celebrated Gainsbourg, he wrote for her the erotic, love-making song Je taime mois non plus. But she begged him to not release it as her third husband, German millionaire Gunter Sachs, was livid. Later when Gainsbourg recorded the song with Jane Birkin it became an international hit, and Brigitte was furious. In another Gainsbourg composition she wore tight leather pants, high boots, a flimsy top revealing her perfect body, gripped the motorcyle handlebars, threw herself onto the big machine in a riding position and sang illustratively while moving sensually, I dont need anyone on my Harley DavidsonI push the starter and immediately leave the earth for heaven nonstopthe vibrations of my machine make me feel desirous deep insideI go faster than 100 and feel like fire and blood
Then suddenly, just before she turned 39, she abandoned her sizzling career and menagerie of men to fight the cause of animals from her secluded St Tropez country home. When I asked Tropezians at the local creperie restaurant, there was long gossip about her wearing only black jeans and her sincere obsession with the animal rights cause. The chef described how shes turned into a vegetarian and lives in a kind of lost paradise with her 4th husband Bernard dOrmale and lots of dogs and cats.
To support the animal-rights campaign, Brigitte raised three million francs in 1977 by auctioning her dresses, souvenirs and jewellery. She has backed efforts to end baby seals being killed in Canada, opposed the transport and slaughter of horses, bullfights, hunting, wearing of fur and industrial animal farms such as over-feeding ducks to make foie gras. In 1999, she wrote to Chinese president Jiang Zemin accusing the Chinese of torturing bears and killing the worlds last tigers and rhinos to make aphrodisiacs. She has donated over $140,000 for mass sterilisation and an adoption programme for Bucharests 300,000 stray dogs. In August 2010, she wrote to Margrethe II, Queen of Denmark, to appeal against the killing of dolphins in Faroe Islands. She has asked French foreign affairs minister to pressurise Japan against whale hunting, and French agriculture minister against the horrors of slaughterhouses. She has thanked Russias Vladimir Putin for protecting wolves and banning the sealskin trade.
In 1970, sculptor Alain Gourdon used Brigitte Bardot to model for the bust of Marianne, the French national emblem. Shes been idolised by the prominent too, including Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney, while singer Bob Dylan mentioned her in his song, I shall be free. Existential philosopher and feminist Simone de Beauvoir paid her the ultimate compliment in The Lolita Syndrome in 1959. She described Brigitte Bardot as a locomotive of women's history, and declared her the first and most liberated woman of post-war France. Indeed, a fitting tribute to a legend. By wearing a mere bikini and revealing her entertainment skills, Brigitte Bardot has transformed the economy of seaside town St Tropez, making it a playhouse for the wealthy elite and tourist haven for millions of global travellers.
Shombit Sengupta is an international consultant to top managements on differentiating business strategy
with execution excellence (www.shiningconsulting.com)