LONDON - She is the symbol of France and her face appears on postage stamps and in every town hall in the country, but Laetitia Casta has provoked outrage from her compatriots by choosing to live in London.
Just days after the first of 36,000 statuettes crafted in her image were unveiled, the 21-year-old model, who will be the Marianne symbolising French virtues for the next decade, revealed that she had been renting a flat in Trafalgar Square for the past three years.
Her self-imposed exile, which critics claimed was an attempt to avoid punitively high taxes in France, was seized on by politicians yesterday as it comes at a time of fierce debate on tax reform.
The right wing howled about the Corsican beauty who had "fled the French socialist paradise" because of "fiscal harassment." The left wing mourned that she had turned her back on the mother country and would live to regret it. Philippe Seguin, a leading Gaullist, likened the move to the "third wave of emigration from France to Britain" after the Huguenots and the aristocrats during the revolution.
The face of L'Oreal, Casta earns around sterling 2 million ($6 million) a year. By moving to Britain she would expect to pay the top tax rate of 40 per cent instead of 60 per cent wealth tax across the Channel.
Her agent, Jean-Paul Cauvin, denied she had gone for tax reasons. Last February he said: "She loves London.
She pays tax here rather than in France."