French First Lady Valerie Trierweiler has been admitted to hospital following reports that her partner, President François Hollande, is having a love affair with a French actress.
The tabloid Le Parisien broke the hospitalization story on its website Sunday, claiming Trierweiler was “very downcast and stressed” after a photo story in the magazine Closer on Friday suggested the president was enjoying secret encounters with actress Julie Gayet at an apartment a block from the Elysée Palace. Trierweiler’s office told AFP she had been admitted the same day “for rest and some tests” and was expected to leave the unnamed hospital on Monday.
One can imagine Trierweiler was upset. And Hollande should be worried, too. Not because the French public will think his actions are immoral. Cynicism about the private lives of public officials knows few bounds in France. But there is something at once sad and ludicrous about these latest revelations, which will be hard for this president to live down.
It’s true that the French invented the bedroom farce as a theatrical genre. And French heads of state have a very long record of philandering. Some politicians’ private lives have turned into sordid tragedies. President Félix Faure ended his life trysting with his mistress in the Elysée in 1899. More recently, in 2011 leading presidential contender Dominique Strauss-Kahn lost his chance for the top job after an ugly sexual encounter with a maid in a Manhattan hotel led to revelations about his utterly out-of-control private life.
But this latest presidential affair—which Hollande has not denied, but which he says is not anyone else’s business—is dangerously close to making the president of France the subject of his own farce. And at a time when his approval ratings are at a record-setting low of around 20 percent, that’s potentially very bad news for the country as well as for his consort.
France needs a leader right now, not a lover, and this one appears, at first glance, risibly improbable on both scores. The indelible images from the Closer spread are those of a man on a motor scooter supposed to be the president of France hiding behind the visor of his helmet as he goes to see his girlfriend.
Hollande’s supposed affair with Gayet, 41, has been the subject of occasional discussion at French dinner parties for several months, so it would be surprising if Trierweiler had not hear the rumors, but the indignity of the pictures is pretty appalling.
In fact, Hollande, 59, who has never been married to anyone, has had a succession of beautiful and intelligent women in his life. His partner of many years was fellow Socialist Party politician Ségolène Royal, 60, with whom he had four children. In 2007, when Royal was the Socialist candidate for president, Hollande was head of the party. But his heart was with Trierweiler, now 48, a journalist for the popular weekly magazine Paris Match. While Royal hit the campaign trail, Hollande and Trierweiler set up house.
(If you grew up watching comedies by Georges Feydeau like A Flea in Her Ear and Free Exchange Hotel, as the French have, you may find this narrative of musical beds easier to follow.)
Five years later, as it happened, Strauss-Kahn was widely expected to win the Socialist nomination and to defeat unpopular incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy (whose second wife went off with another man in 2007, but who recovered quickly by marrying the ex-supermodel Carla Bruni). Then, when DSK pranced naked out of the shower at his mid-town Manhattan hotel and assumed an African maid almost half his age wouldn’t be able to resist a hunk of man like him, his political possibilities shrank to nothing.
So Hollande got the Socialist nomination, campaigning with Trierweiler at his side. She watched him so closely and ferociously that her critics started calling her the Rottweiler, and after Hollande won, she quickly made enemies as an imperious first lady. When her ex-rival Royal ran for parliament, Trierweiler infamously tweeted support for Royal’s opponent. (Trierweiler’s two twitter accounts—@valtrier and @infosvaltrier—have slowed down since then. They deal mostly with good causes, and have said nothing so far about her partner’s reported new partner or her own hospitalization.)
Hollande’s ex-partner, Royal, told a television interviewer she did not want “to feed with the least little remark this soap opera that is very, very, very far from the concerns of the French.”
On Tuesday, Hollande is due to receive hundreds of members of the national and international press to wish them happy New Year and take questions. Normally for Hollande, reporters might gossip over canapés and Champagne, but no one would ask about the head of state’s love life. This year, doubtless, the questions will be different and detailed: “Mr. President, for starters, what about that helmet?”