The French have always seen it as a sign of sophistication that they discreetly ignore, along with a complicit press, the risque sexual lives of their leaders.
It was taken as a sign of Gallic aplomb that no one, besides the Brits, saw anything unusual that, at graveside during former President Francois Mitterrand’s funeral in 1996, stood arrayed his wife, their children and his mistress, Anne Pingeot, and his 20-year-old illegitimate daughter, Mazarine.
This kind of self-conscious restraint and averted eyes seems to be fast crumbling under the administration of Francois Hollande, who boasted during the campaign that he was a “normal man” who would be a “normal president.”
That was to contrast himself to then-President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose first wife had abruptly decamped for a lover in New York. Sarkozy then quickly married Italian supermodel and actress Carla Bruni, of whom a nude photo once sold for $91,000. Now it is Sarkozy who is beginning to look “normal.”
Hollande is a Socialist Party member and so is the unmarried mother of his four children, Segolene Royal, another politician, who ran for president in 2007 and lost badly. She also lost Hollande, who took up with Valerie Trierweiler, a twice-divorced mother of three who has continued to work as a journalist for the magazine Paris Match.
According to the French press, the two women, to put it mildly, do not get along. Trierweiler refers to Royal as “the crazy woman of Poitou” and has used her position as First Partner to instruct Hollande’s staff to keep Royal away from the president.
According to The New York Times, a new book, “La Favorite,” by Larent Geilsamer, describes Trierweiler as “unconventional, imperial, amorous, explosive, unpredictable. And clearly dangerous.”
In turn, Royal has asked Paris Match not to allow Trierweiler to cover the Socialist Party.
Further adding to the ill will between the two women is that Trierweiler managed to prevent Royal from attending the funeral of Hollande’s mother.
This stuff has proved to be too good for the French press to pass up, especially after the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal, and juicy sex scandals are now fair game for coverage. The French press isn’t as intrusive, snide and snarky as the British tabloids, but it’s beginning to get the hang of it.
President Hollande may describe himself as many things while in office, but as he referees a triangle involving an embittered, spurned Royal and a jealous, possessive Trierweiler, “normal” isn’t one of them.