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Nancy Dell'Olio on Strictly, Sven and taking to the stage at the Fringe

Who would have believed in the second decade of the 21st century Nancy Dell'Olio would still be adding to the gaiety of Britain?

It is 13 years since Nancy - let's not be formal - joined her then partner Sven-Goran Eriksson in London after his appointment as England manager. What followed was a giddy whirl of headlines that saw the English FA come to resemble a plot from Hollyoaks. Five years that passed in a whirl of Wags, Nancy's alleged diva-ish behaviour, Sven's affair with Ulrika Johnsson and then FA secretary Faria Alam.

Affairs and Sven seem to go together. Nancy, after all, was with another man when they first met. "Sven should have gone to a sex addiction clinic," she suggested when he published his biography last autumn.

Jonsson, meanwhile, suggested that sex with Sven was about as exciting as an Ikea instruction manual. Well, he must have had something about him. But it has been eight years since Sven got his books as England boss after failing to take the Golden Generation beyond the quarter-final stage of the 2006 World Cup and seven years since the couple split up.

Since then Sven has pursued an itinerant football management career of ever diminishing credibility (he was last spotted the other month trying to hawk his own wine label; in short he's so 2005) while Nancy has implausibly, indomitably, rather winningly carried on; fighting a court case with the papers here, being evicted from Sven's former house there and turning up with the theatre director Trevor Nunn everywhere for a while when he was going through a divorce from his wife Imogen Stubbs. Nancy is the tabloid gift that kept on giving. She must have something about her too. What that something is I'm here to find out this fine London morning.

Oh, and did I mention, she has also done Strictly Come Dancing? "They had been asking me since the start of Strictly," she tells me when I bring the BBC Saturday-night show up, "and I always said, 'No, no, no.' I think I did right."

Nancy has a high opinion of her impact on Strictly. When she did finally agree to appear she believes it was the making of the show. "That probably was the best year. Everybody says [so]. That was very special for Strictly. Strictly moved to another level." Those of you who actually watched the show may have a different recollection, but that is by the by. "I embraced that moment in the right spirit," she continues. "I wanted to have fun and I did. I wanted to show I was a person who could laugh at myself. I'm naturally funny. I have a sense of humour. And it was a great experience."

Truth is, she appears to have a high opinion of herself, full stop. How much of that is down to her tumbling, wayward way with the English language - she is cavalier about tense and tone and sometimes meaning; suffice to say most of the quotes you will read here have been de-Nancyfied - and how much of it is down to her simply being a confident Italian woman who has no interest in or time for British self-deprecation is difficult to gauge. She has said journalists do not really get her and it is possible I am another one.

Perhaps you will fare better if you go to see her in Edinburgh this month. Because Nancy is, as you may have already heard, appearing at the Fringe in a one-woman show about her life. She is hoping it will open up new opportunities for her, for what she calls the Nancy "brand". "I do think it will be a great thing for the business that I am focused on."

The idea is that after Edinburgh she will take the show to London and then, who knows? A television show perhaps?

She has, it might be obvious by now, the bounce and spring of the natural optimist. Is she a diva? On the evidence of this morning only very, very slightly. She arrives at the hotel just after 10am, small Asian woman helper in tow, settles down for hair and make-up and tells me to come back in two hours. I do. She is still having her make-up done. Another hour passes before she is ready. We decide to do the pictures first. She pouts, she poses, she changes into a tight, sheeny dress that is all slink and sideboob. She poses again, she flirts with the photographer, she tells him off, she gives him what you might call the full Nancy.

When we finally get to speak, and after she has tested the many ways to say Edinburgh, she tells me her first romantic weekends with Sven in the UK were in Scotland, she tells me how much she has always loved the Fringe, and she tells me about how nervous and excited she is about the Fringe show she is working on with scriptwriter Diane Spencer. It's called Rainbows From Diamonds. I am a little dubious about the science behind that particular title but Nancy sees it as a moment of transformation. "For me it is an important turning point in my life. I am now reviewing, questioning a lot of things. It is like a beginning. I don't know what's going to happen."

When you say "reviewing", are you going to tell us what you did right and what you did wrong then, I ask. I am put in my place quickly. "You don't review things to say, 'This went wrong or right.' Everything has been right." Everything? "Yes. It is not up to anybody else to judge. Not even me. It is a stupid exercise to have any sorts of regrets about anything. Every step of the way we have things to learn - from mistakes, from doing right. The important thing is every moment you have done something you believe it in that moment. I have been quite lucky. I have a very interesting, fascinating life. Every day is always the best. The only thing we have is today. Yesterday is gone and we might have tomorrow. We are not certain about that. For me, the best has always been ahead in any phase of my life."

Clear on that? Good. Sometimes she is not always so definitive. Sometimes her answers jump around a bit. Language aside, it is not really what you might expect from the well-ordered mind of a qualified lawyer. Does she still practise law? Not really, she says. Some consultancy sometimes, some networking. She does not go into details. Maybe one day she will return to it, she says. Human rights law, perhaps. That is the thing she is most interested in. But the thing is, she says, she is enjoying the other things in her life much more. Being creative. Working on this show.

If she is not a practising lawyer, though, you do wonder what she does with her time. What is a typical day, Nancy? "I don't have a typical day, thank you. I make quite an effort not to have a typical day." She will admit that most days she checks her diary, reads her e-mails, exercises, takes meetings and then sometimes comes and gets her picture taken and talks to people like me.

At this point I should say that Nancy is - once you tune in to her wavelength - a lot of fun. She is clearly clever and often amusing. You can see why she has attracted the attention of rich and powerful men. She was maybe 16 when she had her first boyfriend. A summer romance, she says. When she was 19 she went out with a much older man. That would become something of a habit. That was also the first important relationship, she says. "He was ready for a very, very serious relationship. I do have good memories, but I was the one who finished it because it was too oppressive. I think I was too young. I have always been quite independent." Are men and women different species, Nancy? "Oh yes. Do you agree? Definitely. We are coming from different planets for sure. And I think it's good.

"I think women are much more fascinating in general than the average man. I have been lucky to find intelligent men and they say you have much more to learn from women. Women are much more deep culturally and at the same time more practical. I have found women are much more flexible. I think that has to do with the brain."

Are you telling me women have bigger brains? "With brains, it's not the size," she says. Well, that's a relief. "To me to be flexible is quite essential. It is a connotation of intelligence."

That said, gentlemen, we are not totally useless. "I love to live in a world with women and men. It is much more fun."

She is single at the moment. She has been "single with some interruptions" for a while now. She met Eriksson when he was managing Lazio. She was married to property lawyer Giancarlo Mazza at the time. Another older man, like Sven. Or Sven-Goran Eriksson as she calls him. Sven went and told Mazza about their affair. By the time he was appointed to the England job she was firmly in the picture. "It was a break to come with Sven-Goran Erikkson, but [since] then it has been all about me. It opened so many doors, so many opportunities."

The thing that surprised her most about the British, she says, is how much we like to gossip. "It is a fascination of the British, gossiping. It is no surprise here they have so many papers. In Italy we do not buy papers. The No.1 national paper sells just one million, only on Sunday. It is a different attitude. In my particular case, being in the public eye, being the centre of attention, that was something I had to adjust to."

She has not always. Her relationship with the press has been at times a little touchy. She has been called a lot of things over the years. One newspaper once called her a "man-eater". She took the paper to court because of it and lost. I wonder why, of all the things that must have been written about her, that upset her so much. The question prompts her to rail against the British legal system and our lack of a privacy law. Yes, I say, but what was it about that particular phrase that bothered you? "Because it is completely untrue. This country thinks that is complimentary. That is what the judge said. 'Because you are a beautiful woman.' This should not be allowed.

"If I had taken the case in Italy or another part of Europe I could win. It is the culture that has to change. Because you do not have a privacy law."

She continues in this vein for a while and then concludes decisively. "The real mafia in this country is the press."

I do not have figures to hand on how many people the British press have shot point blank in the head or blown up, but that aside maybe it is worth quoting at this point the author Jeanette Winterson, who once said of Nancy that: "British culture is not comfortable with strong, successful women, particularly if they are sexy."

Nancy, you may not be surprised to learn, agrees. "Absolutely. It is part of this culture. There is a lot of misogyny in this country."

It can't be any worse than Italy, surely? "No, no, no, absolutely. Don't even go there. Italians are much more used to strong women, sexy women, beautiful women. They know how to flirt."

Are you saying British men don't know how to flirt, Nancy? "I think they feel uncomfortable with women who are intelligent, beautiful, sexy and strong and have their own personality, and it is difficult to cope. It is quite sad and that is why men have become aggressive in order to cope."

Nancy says she is a feminist "in a new way". She is a feminist who is feminine (I always thought Germaine Greer was pretty feminine; it kind of goes with the gender, but let it lie). Women have made men insecure, Nancy says, and that is a mistake. But surely, Nancy, that is my gender's problem?

"No, that is why we pay the consequences. How can we have strong women without strong men? I do not like it. I want a man that is able to relate to me, that will not be competitive, that is not afraid of confrontation, that will give me protection, take care of me. That is my reference point and I can be the reference point for him. I am quite for all the old values in relationships between men and women. That is not the world we see, but that is because we have lost this balance. That is why we see the violence against women."

We can argue cause and effect here, of course, but it is difficult to challenge the point she makes next.

"It is still a world dominated by a masculine, misogynist mentality. Around the world there is still so much to be done to establish women's rights, even to recognise for women the basics if we think about India, Africa, all the Middle East. It is something we take completely for granted [here]. There is not enough respect. The last couple of years the number of women being killed is rising. Not only raped and abused but killed, and this is shocking."

This sounds like Nancy the lawyer with an interest in human rights talking. Is it beside the point to ask why we do not hear more of it? I guess it is not something Strictly Come Dancing would have much room for between tangos and paso dobles.

Nancy Dell'Olio says she does not know what the British public think of her. "You should ask them," she tells me when I ask. They are not all in the room, Nancy. She thinks and then tells me "I don't know. I think British people are quite fascinated with me and are quite in love with me and I feel quite loved."

Maybe that is all she needs. To feel loved. Don't we all? n

Nancy Dell'Olio makes her Edinburgh debut with her show Rainbows From Diamonds at the Gilded Balloon on August 14. It runs until August 24. For tickets visit edfringe.com.

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