Francois Hollande Announces Breakup with First Lady Valerie Trierweiler
It's officially curtains for First Lady Valérie Trierweiler at the Elysée Palace. With the break-up Saturday evening in Paris, President François Hollande has finally called an intermission in his colossally distracting bedroom farce. Just two weeks after the French tabloid Closer allegedly caught the scooter-riding president leaving a sleepover with actress Julie Gayet, 41, Hollande personally called Agence France-Presse to affirm he initiated a split with Trierweiler.
The 48-year-old First Lady, who was hospitalized for a full week in the wake of Closer's revelations, followed up on Hollande's announcement with a tweet thanking palace staff for their hospitality. "All of my gratitude goes to the Elysée's extraordinary personnel," she wrote. "I will never forget their devotion or the emotion of the moment of departure."
Hollande, 59, becomes France's second bachelor leader in as many terms. Nicolas Sarkozy was the first French president to divorce in office when he split with his second wife Cécilia in October 2007, shortly after winning the election.
But French media Saturday were quick to point out that the Sarkozys' dénouement -- immortalized in an Elysée communiqué proclaiming a divorce "by mutual consent" -- sounded more amicable than Hollande's apparently unilateral decree. Making clear he was speaking privately, Hollande told AFP, "I wish to make it known that I have ended my partnership with Valérie Trierweiler." Mutual schmutual.
Hollande had given himself until a Feb. 11 state visit to Washington to make up his mind. But feverish speculation and the constant patter of Vaudevillian innuendo came to overshadow more serious business. After meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday, a press conference was conspicuously downgraded to a mere speech on short notice, sparking talk Hollande was shirking presidential duties just to dodge uncomfortable queries about his love life.
Every day of delay brought a new whiff of scandal. Word that Hollande's apparent love-nest was linked to the Corsican mafia sparked security concerns. A long-scheduled Trierweiler trip to India with Action Contre la Faim, a French malnutrition charity, scheduled for Sunday, raised a ruckus over who was footing the bill for a First Lady suddenly without a raison d'être. And in Hollande's awkward silence, French authorities had to debunk the wild rumor that Trierweiler had rampaged through his office in a jealous rage, causing over $4 million in damage.
Within weeks of Sarkozy's break-up, the turtlenecked man-about-town was famously courting supermodel-turned-popstar Carla Bruni on a controversial Red Sea escapade. (After a whirlwind romance, Sarkozy quickly married Bruni in February 2008.) It's a safe bet that Hollande, who has four children with the 2007 Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal but has never married, won't be so quick to skip down the aisle.
Trierweiler, meanwhile, will make the 48-hour charity trip to India on Sunday, marking her first public appearance since Hollande's imputed affair made international headlines on Jan. 10. The trip, for a charity Trierweiler has supported since before Hollande's election, includes a Taj Mahal gala. She returns to Paris on Tuesday evening, at which time she will reportedly lose her security detail and other staff.
A veteran political journalist for Paris Match -- the same glossy weekly that broke stories on President François Mitterrand's secret family and Cécilia Sarkozy's affair with a businessman -- Trierweiler withdrew to the realm of cultural coverage after her relationship with Hollande made her political beat untenable. (The pair were romantically involved long before his split with Royal was made public in 2007. Hollande was the Socialist Party leader at the time.) If Trierweiler does return to a more active role at the magazine, it might get awkward around the newsroom watercooler: Paris Match has Hollande's purported paramour, Gayet, on the cover this week.
Trierweiler leaves the Elysée Palace having never cemented her place there with a leery French public. A BVA Opinion poll released Thursday, ranking France's favorite Premières Dames since 1958, put Trierweiler last. Given the chance to select two favorites, only eight percent named Trierweiler, well behind Bernadette Chirac (46 percent) and Danielle Mitterrand (40 percent). (The desperately unpopular Hollande, in fairness, hardly fares better against his own peers over the same stretch.)
Observers maintain the fiesty and sensitive Trierweiler, whom critics dubbed "The Rottweiler," never recovered in public opinion from her bombshell tweet supporting a dissident Socialist running against the mother of Hollande's children in a June 2012 parliamentary race. "François Hollande's companion has suffered from a poor image in the eyes of the French from the start," BVA Opinion's Céline Bracq notes. "The anti-Ségolène Royal tweet during the legislative elections was, in image terms, a devastating episode."
Seen as un-First-Lady-like -- putting a curiously ferocious vendetta for Hollande's former flame above the brand-new president's political imperatives -- that tweet's impact seemed to linger in a lack of sympathy for Trierweiler's recent bedrest. And when the embattled First Lady summarily fired her longtime lawyer this week for making innocuous comments on her behalf to French media, the reaction seemed to fit a kneejerk reputation that her humanitarian work never quite managed to soften.
During the long wait for Hollande to make up his mind, the tabloid that ultimately brought down France's first couple, Closer, opined, "The Elysée feels it, François Hollande knows it: As soon as the desire to tweet returns, as soon as she gets out of this situation, Valérie Trierweiler will be a grenade with the pin pulled out." Delusional melodrama, in light of Trierweiler's gracious first post-Elysée tweet? Or the script for Act Two? Stay tuned.