(CNN) -- Flamboyant entrepreneur Silvio Berlusconi is one of Italy's most recognizable faces.
He is also Italy's longest-serving prime minister, having held the top job three times.
The 73-year-old billionaire -- who describes himself as "playful" and denies being gaffe-prone -- was formerly a cruise ship singer, before turning his hand to media ownership, and politics.
Despite recent legal and personal problems -- including being asked for a divorce by his second wife, Veronica Lario, the mother of three of his five children -- he remains widely popular in Italy.
The outspoken leader sat down with CNN's Paula Newton for a candid and wide-ranging interview, sharing his thoughts on everything from politics to Italian-ness, gaffes, family and the press.
On Berlusconi ...
I have always treated everyone well -- never disappointed anyone, deceived them -- dealt with people very openly. I've always been able to make everyone feel at home.
Everybody knows that I have a sense of friendship. I'm loyal. I always say what I think. I don't have any hidden thoughts. I speak openly.
I have a playful nature and my cheerfulness is contagious. Even in international meetings like the G8, I bring some cheerfulness and optimism to the group.
On the secret of his success ...
The secret [of my success] is to commit myself a lot, to work very hard, not to leave anything undone. To aim for 10 if you want to achieve eight and to consider others a great deal.
On why he entered politics ...
There were the forces of the Left, who were, unfortunately for Italy, having their roots in the Communist party and Communist ideology.
I couldn't imagine that the country where I had lived, where I had great success as the first Italian entrepreneur, that it would fall prey to these people.
On growing up...
A man is what he becomes in early life ... in the examples given by the family and what he sees and learns at school.
My father was captured [by the Nazis] and my mother was a very courageous woman. She worked as a secretary and had to keep two children and her parents. Milan was being bombed by the Allies, and it was necessary to maintain the family there.
I learned to make sacrifices, for example, the fact that I never go to bed without having done and concluded everything that I had to do.
On being a family man...
I think I have been a good father for my children (Berlusconi has five children from two marriages). I hope they have learned from my example.
The presence of my family has been rather limited during these political and government years, but I do speak with my children every day on the telephone, and I comment on the most important events. We always have lunch or dinner over the weekend and when I'm at home.
On holding the top job ...
I'm doing what I do with a sense of sacrifice, I don't really like it. Not at all.
I don't like it because very often there is a lot of dirty dealing. There is really the gutter press -- worse than that -- the shameless and sickly.
I would say that I'm doing this out of a sense of duty.
On why there's no other person fit for the job ...
Italians have honored me by putting their trust in me and there is a level of consensus which is embarrassing.
I'm here, because unfortunately, it is considered that Berlusconi is the only leader able to hold the center-right together.
On the Left, there is no respectable or credible leader. So, it is a cross which I'll have to bear with sacrifice for some time to come.
On his continuing popularity ...
When I go around, it's embarrassing to see the affection showered upon me.
I know that people can change their opinions, and I am aware of that, but I must say that I just note the fact that I am close to the heart of many Italians. They show this to me very often.
I've always been liked by those who have worked with me. I'm liked and loved by all people in politics.
On being Italian ...
I was lucky to be born in a country which determined the history of the world.
I am what I am because I am Italian. I studied the history of Italy. I read Italian literature. I know my country well. So, I am 100 percent Italian.
I hope I express everything positive of what it means to be Italian.
On gaffes ...
I have never made a gaffe. The gaffes have been invented the papers.
I tell stories and tell jokes. I don't tell dirty jokes. I only tell jokes that can be heard by anyone. And I'm always conscious of what we are talking about.
On the press ...
One day, I had dinner with [Former UK Prime Minister] Mrs Thatcher in Bermuda. She asked me what my work schedule was. I said, 'I get up at seven and go to bed at two-thirty.' 'I work until one, the newspapers arrive for the next day. I read them. I get furious, and then I go to bed and sleep on it and in the morning I am optimistic again.'
She said, 'It's impossible. You can't govern and read the newspapers. How do you do it? I only read the articles that are positive for me and my government, which are given to me by my press officer.
I said, 'When I get back to Italy, as of tomorrow, I'm going to follow the Thatcher system. You bring me articles which only say positive things about what I do.' Well, I didn't see my press agent for two months!
CNN's Paula Newton contributed to this report.