Did François Hollande Have An Affair On The Campaign Trail?

The alleged love triangle roiling the Elysee gets another twist as a magazine claims Hollande’s began an affair with actress Julie Gayet before his election to the presidency.

Benoit Tessier/Reuters

A full week after First Lady Valérie Trierweiler, 48, was admitted to hospital in the wake of the infidelity allegations against François Hollande, French media remains a steady IV drip of gossip for a nation feigning disinterest. The very fact the French president visited his ailing partner Thursday night for the first time has earned breaking-news screen-banners on France’s 24-hour news channels—a day after feverish chatter that he had yet to drop by. And undeterred by the breach of privacy lawsuit Hollande’s purported paramour has filed against Closer Magazine, the tabloid levied a new salvo Friday.

The glossy weekly this time alleges Hollande, 59, and the actress Julie Gayet, 41, have been secret lovers for two years—suggesting France’s First Lady has played second fiddle since before his election. Just as last week, Closer offers no compromising pictures of the pair together—the tabloid trusts readers to imagine the scenes described: Two years’ worth of shared nights, dinners, and holidays en tête-à-tête. Gayet is pictured driving a white car; Hollande is shown exiting an entirely different white car. Gayet’s reported tears at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2012, “soon after” Hollande’s presidential victory speech alongside Trierweiler, are supposed to corroborate frustrated longing. The concierge of a building near the Elysée Palace, we’re told, “attempted” to take Hollande and Gayet’s photo around December 2012, allegedly forcing the illicit pair to switch love-nests.

And in an unlikely twist—a bid to turn this presidential love triangle into an even more unwieldy love square—the rival tabloid Voici on Friday published photos of longtime Hollande partner Ségolène Royal, 60, exiting Paris’s La Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital. The former Socialist presidential candidate and mother of Hollande’s four children is alleged to have been visiting Hollande’s so-called “future ex.” Both women issued categorical denials even before the photos hit newsstands. (Word is Royal was only visiting her dentist.)

Similarly, Gayet phoned Europe 1 radio herself on Thursday to nip pregnancy rumors in the bud. And before Hollande’s hospital visit, a Trierweiler associate contacted RTL radio to temper rumors she’d been abandoned in her convalescence. (Doctors hadn’t allowed Hollande to visit, listeners learned, but he sent flowers and chocolates.) Elsewhere, in Le Point, an anonymous Trierweiler friend claimed her jilted pal had “just taken one pill too many,” all the while quashing suicide rumors.

And the whack-a-mole rumor-crushing act isn’t over. Closer reportedly nearly doubled its usual circulation of 300,000 copies last week, with its website traffic jumping 800 percent on Friday alone. Gayet’s breach of privacy lawsuit against Closer demands 50,000 euros in damages and 4,000 euros in legal costs, plus a pledge that a court’s decision in her favor be published across half of the magazine’s cover. The trial isn’t expected until March 6. The math is easy. Indeed, the tabloid devotes two pages this week to coverage of its own week-old scoop.

Nevermind polling suggesting France isn’t fussed by presidential frolicking—the numbers are enough to keep the story squarely under French noses, upturned or not. A survey by the IFOP firm, conducted before the news Trierweiler was recovering in hospital, showed 77 percent felt the alleged dalliance was “a private affair that concerns François Hollande alone.” And 58 percent of French people polled by Harris Interactive agreed that Hollande was right to evade questions about his private life during his bi-annual press conference Tuesday. Still, nearly 4.3 million viewers tuned into the weekday afternoon event, more than doubling the 1.873 million Hollande scored last time.

Advertisers aren’t buying the studied indifference play, either. A car-rental chain is cashing in with a print ad imploring, “Monsieur le Président, next time, forget the scooter. Sixt rents out cars with tinted windows.” And one French radio station ad trumpets, “Monsieur le Président, we know you’re a fan, Daft Punk is on Virgin Radio’s playlist,” citing the French electro duo, up for five Grammys this month, known to take cover under robot helmets. (You can tell their copywriters stayed up all night to get lucky with that one.)

The public pretense of indifference wasn’t enough to stop some weeklies from rushing to press early in the wake of Closer’s exclusive, sensing demand. France’s Elle appeared two days ahead of schedule, touting “Julie Gayet: Une Passion Française.” And Paris Match hit newsstands a day early with a cover on Hollande and Trierweiler’s ordeal.

In fact, Trierweiler, a journalist by trade, is still on the payroll of Paris Match, a magazine that has broken its share of French affairs, from François Mitterrand’s secret daughter to Nicolas Sarkozy’s wife’s secret lover. Under the circumstances, the opening line of Trierweiler’s entirely unrelated books column this week makes a jarring read. “There is no worse mortal poison than indifference,” she writes. No risk of that.