Lawyer Rachida Dati, named as French justice minister by President Sarkozy, is the first person of North African origin to hold a top government post in Paris.
She was born in 1965 to an Moroccan mason father and an Algerian mother, one of 12 children raised in humble circumstances.
At the age of 16, she started working as a carer in a private clinic.
The premature death of her mother forced her to look after her younger sisters and brothers.
"My mother was the light of my life. When I lost her, I thought I had been punished," she says.
| My mother was the light of my life. When I lost her, I thought I had been punished |
French Justice Minister Rachida Dati
Working by day, learning by night, she gained degrees in both economics and law, and went on to work for various public and private companies - including a spell working as an accountant for French oil giant Elf.
In 1997, Rachida Dati enrolled in the prestigious National College of Magistrates, where she studied for two years.
The ties with Nicolas Sarkozy that would eventually take her to the cabinet began in 2002.
She wrote to the then freshly-appointed interior minister, expressing her desire to advise him on immigration - Mr Sarkozy accepted.
She went on to become a constant figure at his side, taking on the tough job of spokeswoman during his presidential campaign.
As his adviser, she played an important role in dealing with the delicate issue of integration.
After the 2005 riots in the French suburbs, when Nicolas Sarkozy called the rioters - some of whom were of North African origin - "scum", Rachida Dati worked behind the scenes to limit the damage, as her boss stood accused of racism.
Now, Rachida Dati is the highest-ranking person of North African descent in France.