Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini

Photo of the Day

The star-struck Claretta, Mussolini’s last love. According to her diaries, he radiated a ‘god-like potency’ and a ‘bull-like’ magnetism.

‘I’d like To Jump Onto Your Bed Like a Big Tomcat’

Benito Mussolini had two wives, several mistresses and dozens, possibly hundreds, of casual lovers during his lifetime

Star-struck Claretta Petacci was determined to conquer her ‘divine Caesar’ — and was finally strung up beside him. Claretta Petacci, born 28 February 1912, was perhaps the biggest love in Benito Mussolini’s life, a man 30 years her senior. Brought up in a wealthy family, Clara’s father was the pope’s personal physician.

As a child in fascist Italy, Clara Petacci (known as Claretta) was dutifully adoring of Benito Mussolini and the Cult of ducismo. She gave the stiff-armed Roman salute while at school (the Duce had declared handshaking Fey and unhygienic) and sang the fascist youth anthem ‘Giovinezza’. Her father, was a convinced fascist, for whom Mussolini was the incarnation of animal cunning — furbizia — and the manful fascist soul. Claretta herself would have to wait before she met the ‘divine Caesar’.

The story begins like a romantic novel. On a glorious spring day in Rome in April 1932, stunning heiress Claretta Petacci and her dashing fiance, an army lieutenant, took off in their chauffeured limousine for a day at the beach.

Giggling excitedly between them on the back seat of the Lancia was Claretta’s nine-year-old sister, Myriam, there as chaperone. The road to the coast was a marvel of modern engineering, a motorway built at the command of Italy’s fascist dictator — prime minister Benito Mussolini. He was at the height of his powers, adored by Italians who knew him as Il Duce and feted by leaders around the world. Winston Churchill called him the ‘Roman genius’, and even Mahatma Gandhi praised his ‘passionate love for his people’.

That same day, Il Duce was also taking a spin in the sunshine along the Via del Mare in his bright red Alfa Romeo 8C, with its long running boards and rear fin like the crest of a Roman god’s helmet. Near Ostia, Mussolini’s car recklessly overtook the limousine, blasting his horn as he did. The young woman in the back smiled and waved. For a fleeting moment, Mussolini looked into her eyes — and was smitten. Pulling over, he signalled for the Lancia to stop. Claretta recognised Mussolini at once and scrambled out of the car. ‘I’m going to pay homage to him,’ she declared. ‘I’ve been waiting for such a long time.’

Claretta had been besotted with Mussolini for years, ever since a 1926 assassination attempt when the insane Irish aristocrat Violet Gibson took a potshot at him with a revolver. The bullet just nicked the bridge of his nose. Then a 14-year-old schoolgirl, Claretta had been aghast at the news and penned a gushing letter to him: ‘O, Duce, why was I not with you? Could I not have strangled that murderous woman?’

She told him she dreamed of putting her ‘head on your chest so I could still hear the beats of your great heart. Duce, my life is for you’. Now her teenage fantasies were about to be realised.

The cars drew level, and Mussolini pulled over to confront his pursuer. Petacci was 19; he was 49. But to judge by her diaries — first published in Italy in 2009 as Mussolini segreto (Secret Mussolini) — the encounter was love at first sight. As the weeks went by, the doctor’s daughter began to court the Duce in a decorous way, first by sending him perfumed billets-doux, then by calling him on the telephone.

Mussolini, never one to resist a woman’s advances, soon took her to bed.

Read more »