Silvio Berlusconi is one of Europe’s most fascinating and controversial figures. He is not only the former Prime Minister of Italy, he is the owner of the nation’s top football team, the leader of a media empire and the richest man in the country.
Berlusconi is the son of Luigi, a Milan banker, and Rosa Bossi. He was the first of three children, the others being Maria Antonietta Berlusconi and Paolo Berlusconi, now both entrepreneurs.
Silvio studied law at the Università Statale in Milan, graduating in 1961. His career began in the building construction business shortly after, when he became involved in the design of a garden city – Milano 2 -on the outskirts of Milan.
His first venture into the Media business came in 1973 when he became involved in a cable television station to service Milano 2. Five years later he formed his first media group, Fininvest. The company owned a string of local TV stations across the country. Today his main company – Mediaset – comprises of three national television channels, which hold almost half the national viewing audience.
In addition to other banking and insurance interests, Berlusconi owns AC Milan, one of the leading football clubs in the world.
In 1993 Mr Berlusconi founded his own political party, Forza Italia or Go Italy – named after a chant used by fans of AC Milan. A year later he became Prime Minister, forming a coalition with the right-wing National Alliance and Northern League.
However rivalries between the three leaders, coupled with Mr Berlusconi’s indictment for alleged tax fraud, led to the collapse of the government just seven months later. He lost the 1996 election to the left-wing Romano Prodi.
True to form Berlusconi refused to be deterred and spent the next few years re-organising his party. In 2001 he took power again, in coalition once more with his former partners.
However, further accusations of embezzlement, tax fraud and false accounting dogged the Prime Minister and culminated in a narrow election defeat in 2006. He lost once again to old rival Romano Prodi.
Throughout his career, controversy has followed him. His media empire has given him unprecedented access to a nationwide audience. His support for the War in Iraq has made him a lightning-rod throughout Europe. And his high-profile lifestyle and savvy media sense has made Silvio Berlusconi nearly a celebrity.
Berlusconi began as the ultimate outsider in European politics. But his development from an entrepreneur to a statesman has made him a figure to watch: a man who combines business sense and political will to create a new type of politician for Europe, and the world.