As G8 leaders meet in Italy to tackle sensitive issues, the summit's host, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, can only hope the economic crisis doesn't take a back-seat to questions about his personal life.

Berlusconi, 72, finds himself deep in a cauldron of controversy because of his relationships with women, which have infuriated his wife, Veronica Lario.

He allegedly invited a 17-year-old part-time model to his New Year's Eve party, and a series of paparazzi photos have shown half-naked women at the prime minister's country estate. Other women have said they were paid to attend parties thrown for Berlusconi.

Franco Pavoncello, a political analyst at Rome's John Cabot University, has called this a "difficult moment" in Berlusconi's life.

The prime minister's behaviour has started to test the patience of Italians, as many are beginning to believe his antics have gone too far.

Berlusconi's difficulties have also thrown a curveball at the logistics of the summit. His estrangement from his wife, who is seeking a divorce, means he lacks a spouse who can oversee the host duties for spouses of the other G8 leaders.

However, the prime minister solved the problem by asking former topless model Maria Carfagna -- now a lawyer and Berlusconi's Minister for Equal Opportunity -- to step-in and play host. Carfagna has been joined in the role by Education Minister Maria Stella Gelmini.

Carfagna took the leaders' spouses on Wednesday on a tour of Rome's Capitoline museums, and to a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.

The billionaire prime minister is also known for outrageous statements that both fascinate and exasperate Italian voters. French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy was reportedly irritated last fall when Berlusconi publicly said that the newly elected U.S. President Barack Obama was "handsome, young and also suntanned."

On Wednesday, Bruni-Sarkozy skipped the spouses' social events in Rome, though she plans to visit a hospital and relief center in L'Aquila on Thursday.