Silvio Berlusconi was born in Milan, Italy on 29th September 1936. His father, Luigi Berlusconi, was a bank employee, and his mother, Rosa, a housewife. After taking a law degree at a university in Milan, Silvio Berlusconi entered the construction industry.
After completing a few successful projects, he constructed Milano Due, a huge apartment complex known for its eccentric interconnected walkthroughs. This project brought him into the public limelight for the first time. Controversy over the source of finance for the project has never gone away, but the labyrinthine nature of Berlusconi's business interests has made it impossible for investigators to establish any clear wrongdoing. Milano Due was also notable as the location of Berlusconi's first media venture, Telemilano, a cable TV station set up to service the complex.
Soon after the establishment of Telemilano, Berlusconi bought two other cable channels. He then relocated the station to central Milan and began broadcasting in earnest. Fininvest, his first media group, was founded in 1978. During the following 5 years, he is reputed to have earned nearly €60 million. Again, the sources of such a huge sum of money are controversial. Fininvest continued to expand, forming what was, in effect, a private national television network.
This breached the rights enjoyed by RAI, the state broadcaster, to a sole national network and brought Berlusconi again into conflict with the authorities. In 1980, Berlusconi set up Canale 5, the first official private television network. He added Italia 1 and Rete 4 to his empire soon afterwards. He then launched three international sister networks: La Cinq (1986), Tele 5 (1988) and Telecinco (1989).
Years of legal wrangling followed, with the networks not allowed to publish news and political commentary. In 1985 Berlusconi's ally, Prime Minister Bettino Craxi pushed through emergency legislation allowing the channels to continue broadcasting. However, it was not until 1990 that the state monopoly was fully abolished and Berlusconi could broadcast legally.
Berlusconi has developed a wide range of business interests and a large personal fortune of over 6 billion euros in the process, making him one of the wealthiest people in Italy.
Mediaset, his main company, is the largest commercial broadcaster in Italy. Mediaset also owns Publitalia ‘80, Italy's leading advertising agency, and Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Italy's largest publishing house. He is also the founder and largest shareholder of Fininvest, among the ten largest private companies in Italy. Berlusconi owned Italian football club AC Milan from 1986 to 2017.
Silvio Berlusconi has been the leader of the centre-right political party ‘Forza Italia’ since 2013. He previously held the role from 1994 to 2009. In the four years inbetween, he served as the leader of ‘The People of Freedom’ party. He has been Prime Minister on three separate occasions, over four terms: 1994 - 1995, 2001 - 2006 and 2008 - 2011. He is the longest-serving Prime Minister of the Italian Republic and the second-longest-serving PM in Italian history.
Over the years, Silvio Berlusconi has been accused of many criminal activities including bribery and corruption, embezzlement, extortion, perjury, fraud and involvement with the mafia. He claimed once to have been persecuted by his enemies having been “subjected to 577 visits by the police, 2,500 court hearings and 174 million euros in legal fees”. It is true that many of his prosecutors have been members of the parliamentary opposition, but many of his defence lawyers were MPs too. Despite several cases coming to court, most of the cases have so far proved unsuccessful for many reasons in his favour. Whilst PM, he was helped by his own government passing a new law shortening the time limit for prosecutions.
In 2013, his luck almost ran out. He was sentenced to seven years for having sex with an underage prostitute, Moroccan erotic dancer Karima El-Mahroug, also known as ‘Ruby the Heart-stealer’. However, the billionaire was spared jail on appeal.
The scandal, known as 'Rubygate', centred around Berlusconi paying have sex with her at his Milan mansion when she was 17-years-old. Paying for sex with a woman under 18 is a criminal offence in Italy. He was also accused of abuse of power when El-Mahroug was arrested for stealing a 3,000-euro bracelet. Berlusconi lied and used political influence to get her released from police custody. saying she was related to Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.
In the same year, Berlusconi was convicted of tax fraud charges involving his Mediaset empire. He was sentenced to four years in prison, which was spared due to his age. His sentence was then commuted to four hours’ work a week with elderly dementia patients./p>
In 2015, Berlusconi was granted a three-year jail term for bribing a senator. However, the statue of limitations expired before the appeal process was completed, meaning the term was dropped.
Silvio Berlusconi has long been known for his colourful private life.
He has been married twice. He has five children and ten grandchildren. His first marriage was to Carla Elvira Dall'Oglio, with whom he has two children: Maria Elvira, also known as Marina, born in 1966, and Pier Silvio, born in 1969. They divorced in 1985.
In 1990, he married actress Veronica Lario, with whom he has three children: Barbara, born in 1984; Eleonora, born in 1986 and Luigi, born in 1988.
After numerous reports of affairs and indiscretions, Lario announced in 2009 that she was to file for divorce.
Since then, Berlusconi has been dogged by a number of other lurid revelations about his private life. The most damaging concerned details of private 'Bunga Bunga' parties held at his palatial residences in Milan and Sardinia. Berlusconi described the events as 'Elegant Dinners', but others have drawn a different picture, describing them as nothing more than sex parties involving numerous prostitutes, striptease shows and sexual activities of various kinds.
In 2016, Berlusconi suffered a stroke and underwent surgery to replace a defective aortic valve.
In 2020, Berlusconi tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. He was once again admitted in 2021 due to long-term effects of the disease.