She’s baaack—literally with a vengeance. Just eight months after President François Hollande rode into the tabloids on the back of a bodyguard’s scooter, the bedroom farce at the Elysée Palace is getting a provocative second act. Valérie Trierweiler, France’s erstwhile first lady, returns to the spotlight with a top-secret tell-all set to hit French bookstores en masse on Thursday. Spoiler: She’s not happy. And her memoir’s timing couldn’t be worse for Hollande’s flailing presidency.
Flash back eight months. Paparazzi snap the French president, obscured under a motorcycle helmet, being dropped off in the night on a Piaggio three-wheeler at an apartment just steps from the Elysée Palace. The same bodyguard, apparently bearing croissants, returns to fetch the never-married philandering leader the next morning.
The escapade, splashed across seven pages in the tabloid weekly Closer on Jan. 10 as “The President’s Secret Love,” provided an ogling nation with headline gossip for weeks. The presidential paramour was French film star Julie Gayet, 42, confirming months of behind-the-scenes innuendo. Trierweiler, a journalist for the glossy weekly Paris Match, was hospitalized for a week, ostensibly under the strain of events.
On Jan. 25, in a succinct 18-word statement, Hollande, 60, made the couple’s split official. This week, Trierweiler, 49, matches that public affront with a statement of her own—in 320 unforgiving pages.
Paris Match devotes its cover and a 12-page spread Wednesday to Trierweiler’s Thank You for This Moment, including short, dramatic excerpts.
In one snippet, Trierweiler recounts the morning that news broke of the president’s liaison. Paris Match calls it “the most horrible moment of her life.” Pursued by Hollande into the couple’s Elysée Palace bathroom, Trierweiler writes, she grabs a bagful of sleeping pills and runs into their bedroom. Hollande snatches at the bag. It rips. Pills spill across the bed and floor. “I swallow what I can,” she writes. “I want to sleep. I don’t want to live the hours to come.” Then, she says, she lost consciousness.
The shock memoir’s very existence was kept secret until Tuesday in an operation worthy of Edward Snowden. An independent Paris publishing house, Les Arènes, is said to have had a skeleton staff working on the project to thwart leaks. An exceptionally large first run of 200,000 copies was reportedly printed in Germany for the same reason. Le Monde reports Trierweiler drafted the manuscript “in the greatest secrecy over the course of six months, on a computer that she took care to not connect to a network.”
Pursued by Hollande into the couple's Elysée Palace bathroom, Trierweiler writes, she grabs a bagful of sleeping pills and runs into their bedroom.
Even Trierweiler’s own children were kept in the dark, Olivier Royant, Trierweiler’s boss at Paris Match, told French radio Wednesday. He likened the process to “a spy novel.” Trierweiler is pictured on the cover of her own magazine this week, under the headline “My Life with François.”
The excerpts published ahead of Thursday’s release suggest a melodramatic, navel-gazing romp. Trierweiler tells of the couple’s early “enchanted years,” the “electromagnetic field between us,” before their relationship is slowly ravaged by resentment.
Trierweiler lays out her crippling jealousy of Ségolène Royal, the mother of Hollande’s four children and a Socialist Party heavyweight in her own right. Hollande officially left Royal for Trierweiler in 2007, although their liaison began in 2005. Trierweiler recounts breaking down in tears, “devastated,” backstage at a 2012 presidential campaign event in Rennes, where Hollande broke a promise not to appear on stage with Royal and the crowd cheered wildly.
She tells of posting the fateful tweet that would precipitate the couple’s downfall after Hollande broke a new promise not to back Royal in June 2012 legislative elections. “I press the detonator and I am the only one responsible,” Trierweiler writes of the tweet, as excerpted Wednesday in Le Monde. “But the time-bomb was built by François Hollande and Ségolène Royal,” Trierweiler writes, painting the political pair as a House of Cards-style powerhouse constantly using one another for political gain. (Long left out of Hollande’s administration, Royal has served in his cabinet since April.)
As Trierweiler and Hollande’s relationship sours, the former First Lady is cutting. The president grew cold, she writes. In an excerpt published by Le Monde, Trierweiler claims she “became a lightning rod for everything that happens. For every cabinet minister gaffe, for every factory closing, I felt the aftershock.” She says Hollande proposed marriage in September 2012, only to withdraw his proposal a month later. After their break-up, she expresses disappointment that Hollande’s interior and finance ministers don’t call her up in sympathy.
Since France’s first couple met its spectacularly public end, the president has become desperate to get back together, Trierweiler snipes, his desperation growing the more his approval ratings fell. She claims Hollande has bombarded her with text messages, as many as 29 a day.
“Does he believe what he writes?” she asks. “Or am I the last whim of a man who can’t stand to lose? He tells me he will win me back, as if I were an election.”
The book’s surprise release is in itself a setback for Hollande. Under fire politically from all quarters, the perilously unpopular Socialist president tried to stop the bleeding with a cabinet shuffle last week, further angering leftists who charge his government is shifting rightward. With unemployment at a record high and the economy stagnant, a new public jaunt through Hollande’s bedroom is yet another frivolous distraction.
Still, a generous reading—presuming there are any voters feeling generous about a president whose approval ratings have dipped into the teens—might dismiss many of Trierweiler’s sideswipes as commonplace sour grapes. Queried for comment on French television Wednesday, a Hollande ally, Socialist Speaker of the House Claude Bartolone, responded, “Do you know of any break-ups that go well? Everyone has their own suffering and their little story, but not everybody has the possibility of writing a book.”
But Trierweiler’s parting shot might do its most lasting damage with one devastating characterization of Hollande, questioning his Socialist chops.
Raised in rent-controlled social housing, Trierweiler was the fifth child of six. Her father was a war amputee on benefits; her mother a cashier at a skating rink. In Thank You For This Moment, she alleges Hollande mocked her modest roots and suggests that, privately, he ridicules the poor as unwashed masses. “He presented himself as the man who doesn’t like the rich. In reality, the president doesn’t like the poor,” she writes. “This man, the man of the left, says in private ‘the toothless,’ proud of his quip.”
If Trierweiler can make that evocative image stick, she’ll have done more damage to Hollande’s image in France than so many love-nest scooter rides.
In her new book, as she describes her relationship disintegrating within the confines of Elysée Palace, Trierweiler complains, “How many times did I have to ask [Hollande’s security] to give us a bit of space when we walked together?” But between that one devastating tweet and this poison pen, perhaps the bodyguard was on to something.