Robin Lee-Navrozov

Is this the new Berlusconi?

Diego Della Valle disclaims further political ambition. So did Italy's current prime minister

Rome. A summer evening at the Colosseum. Snarling traffic and noisy crowds can be heard, but inside the arena the air is cool and still. On the dais, here to formally inaugurate the site’s restoration, which he is funding with a €25 million donation, is Diego Della Valle, ‘the shoemaker’, as the snooty Romans call him. He has built a fashion empire, transforming his father’s successful shoe business into a global brand, Tod’s, which continues to expand even in the depths of recession. His has plenty of other business interests, too, from the football club Fiorentina to the Corriere della Sera, Italy’s most respected newspaper. In Italy’s most powerful boardrooms, as well as on television, where he is a guest on political chat shows, he has risen to prominence for being unafraid to spar with Berlusconi — without resorting to the mudslinging polemics and absurd demagoguery that are the sorry standard in Italian debate.

Evening’s purple shadows fill the Colosseum’s soaring arches. Lanterns are lit. Soft jazzy music plays; prosecco and a summer buffet appear. Guests include friends such as the director Dante Ferretti and the two Brachetti Peretti petroleum heirs. ‘Della Valle is just quicker, cleverer and savvier than all the others,’ says Giancarlo Galan, Berlusconi’s minister of culture. In saving the Colosseum, he has pulled off ‘un affare’ (a deal), ‘not only for him, but for Rome and for the world’.

Recently I visited Della Valle at his art-filled 17th-century villa in Le Marche. I asked him whether, as many suspect, his next step is to put himself forward as an untarnished but equally charismatic alternative to Berlusconi. He is, after all, a self-made man with splendid homes, yachts, a private plane, a newspaper and a football team. He is on the board of Mediobanca, which, among other things, controls Assicurazioni Generali, the insurance giant at the centre of Italy’s financial establishment.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in