BERLIN Germany's former first lady Bettina Wulff has used a new autobiography to reject allegations that she once worked as an escort and announced legal measures to try to silence the rumours, which have spread over the Internet.
Wulff, 38, was Germany's youngest first lady when her husband Christian became president in 2010.
She was initially celebrated in the German media as a glamorous and independent-minded woman, with endless column inches devoted to the tattoo on her arm and her fashion sense, seemingly giving Germany its answer to Michelle Obama and French first lady Carla Bruni.
But rumours about her past began to appear online just as her husband was becoming embroiled in a financial favours scandal that forced him out of the largely ceremonial post in February.
Photographs of "Lady Viktoria", a blonde wearing a black blindfold, were avidly compared with pictures of Wulff on the Internet. No allegations were reported in mainstream media, but Wulff became the subject of jokes.
In the new book, due out this week, the mother-of-two says the allegations have hurt her deeply.
"I have never worked as an escort," she writes.
In a chapter of her book entitled "The Rumours", Wulff writes: "Apparently my pseudonym was Lady Viktoria and my place of work was an establishment called 'Chateau Osnabrueck'."
Wulff, whose husband was once considered a rival to Chancellor Angela Merkel, has also taken legal steps, including bringing a complaint against the Internet search engine Google.
Entering Bettina Wulff's name in the German language version of the site automatically generates the words "escort" and "prostitute" as suggested search terms. Wulff described her fear that her son could see this.
"If he puts my name in and those are the first expressions he sees ... then I find that so horrid and shameful. I can't put the feeling into words."
Google has said it does not select these words itself.
"Google's automatically generated search suggestions reflect the actual searches users are carrying out. Suggested expressions are generated by algorithms from many objective factors, including the popularity of the search term," Kay Oberbeck, a spokesman for Google, said in a statement.
Wulff's lawyer said a number of publishing outlets had agreed to pay her damages for reporting the allegation, but did not name the parties or say how much they had paid.
The German Journalists' Association (DJV) questioned the timing of the legal action.
"The fact that this is happening at the same time as her book is going on sale arouses suspicions of a PR campaign designed to get attention," said Michael Konken, the head of the association.
Christian Wulff separated from his wife of 18 years in 2006 and married Bettina, a press officer who had a son from a previous relationship, two years later.
Wulff was premier of the state of Lower Saxony from 2003 to 2010 and a deputy leader of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) before the chancellor nominated him to become president.
German media have suggested the rumours about his wife were invented by political rivals to discredit him.
Wulff's standing started to unravel last year when Germany's top-selling newspaper Bild accused him of misleading the state parliament over a cheap home loan from a businessman friend.
He threatened the editor of Bild with "war" if he published the story, then later apologised.
After that a stream of allegations about unpaid-for flight upgrades, hotel stays and gifts chipped away at his credibility.
Joachim Gauck, a former East German rights activist and Protestant pastor, succeeded Wulff as head of state in March. (Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Kevin Liffey)