When France rid itself of a scandal-prone president and his ex-supermodel first lady in 2012, the country prepared for a period of calm at Élysée Palace, thanks to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s uncharismatic successor, the balding, pasty-faced Socialist Party leader François Hollande.
But the French had reckoned without Hollande’s relationship with Valérie Trierweiler, his partner who had famously come between the new president and his former wife, the powerful Socialist Party politician Ségolène Royal.
Because Hollande and Trierweiler weren’t married, France’s outgoing first lady Carla Bruni suggested they tie the knot so she could become his “legitimate wife.” And then all would be fine.
But if the Royal-Trierweiler-Hollande love triangle was a political “psychodrama,” as the French press complained, they only had to be patient. Because there was plenty more psycho and much more drama on the way.
In January, the French tabloid magazine Closer revealed that Hollande, now 60, was having yet another affair, this time with 42-year-old actress Julie Gayet. While the world press followed every hiccup of the story, Trierweiler, publicly humiliated, was quietly admitted to a Paris hospital (under unclear circumstances) and her seven-year relationship with Hollande collapsed.
Hollande and Gayet are apparently still seeing each other: Last week, Voici, another French rag, published photos of her inside the Élysée Palace with Hollande and reported that Gayet “spends most her nights and weekends” there.
Revenge for Trierweiler, who is 49, has come in the form of a tell-all memoir, Thank You for This Moment, a scorching attack on her former lover that fast became a bestseller in France (the book has reportedly netted her between 1.3 and 1.7 million euros) and is now available in English. We picked through the book, extracting all the juicy and interesting stuff—and passing by the less interesting French political intrigue—for your enjoyment.
The kiss in Limoges
Trierweiler and Hollande met in 1988, when she was a political reporter for Profession Politique and he was a National Assembly representative.
He was one of the leaders of an “open-minded and iconoclastic” faction of the Socialist Party, and Trierweiler—then 23—felt politically aligned with him. By the early ’90s, when Trierweiler was settling into a new job at Paris Match, they had developed a friendship and “bumped into one another every week” at the National Assembly.
At the time, their relationship was strictly professional. “François Hollande never said a word out of line to me or behaved inappropriately with me—unlike many a politician,” she writes. But in 2002, rumors began circulating that they were having an affair, and while their closeness was “not quite normal,” they hadn’t yet confronted the palpable romantic tension.
Theirs was a “forbidden love”: They were both married (Hollande to Royal, and Trierweiler to Denis Trierweiler, an editor at Paris Match), and Trierweiler claims she never intended to cross the line of infidelity. But Hollande was “insistent,” she writes, and “his strength of persuasion was nuclear.” She writes: “He was the one who suddenly switched our platonic, friendly brand of love up a gear and turned it into passionate love.”
But Trierweiler certainly wasn’t a victim. In 2005, weeks after Hollande’s press secretary had personally dialed Trierweiler to say that Hollande fancied her, she agreed to accompany him on a business trip near Châteauroux.
After lunch one day, Hollande drove her back to her hotel in Limoges (he was headed to Tulle) and confessed his love. She writes ecstatically of their first kiss: “What passed between us in that moment is indescribable, it was like a scene from a film. A kiss like no other kiss I’d ever shared with anyone. A kiss that had been held back for nearly fifteen years, in the middle of a crossroads.”
One expects that an ecstatically rendered sex scene would follow, but their first night together is only tacitly referenced. “François did not drive back to Tulle that evening,” she writes. “He came with me to the station very early the next morning. We had just experienced a unique moment—and yet I struggled to call him by his first name or even simply to use the familiar ‘tu’ when addressing him.”
The pair began their relationship in 2007, and went public with it in 2010 after her divorce was finalized. Of her public life with Hollande, Trierweiler writes that she accompanied him everywhere, that she was always happy by his side. However, he asked her to give up her career as a political journalist—she subsequently became a book critic. Yet Trierweiler notes that in never officially being made France’s first lady left her in a kind of limbo—unable to do the job she wanted on one hand, and on the other unable to assume the official role her relationship to Hollande should, she felt, have conferred upon her.
Hollande is ‘the king of doublespeak, ambiguity, and perpetual lies’
In the end, it was not just Hollande’s infidelity that broke Trierweiler but his pernicious deceit and apparent inability to tell the truth. He had promised Trierweiler that he wouldn’t support Royal in her 2012 parliamentary campaign to be speaker of the National Assembly, only to go back on his word.
When she confronted him, he maintained that his party’s secretary general had convinced him to do so. But the secretary general “later denied this pathetic fabrication,” claiming he had “tried to stop Hollande from giving Royal his support because it mixed everything up, personal life and public life.”
Hollande confessed, saying he supported his ex-wife because of his children. “His decision awoke my deep-rooted feeling of being illegitimate–a feeling that had deeply damaged me ever since we had made our relationship official.”
Trierweiler’s only regret
Immediately after Hollande publicly backed Royal, Trierweiler sought to vindicate his betrayal by supporting Royal’s political opponent on Twitter: “Good luck to Olivier Falorni who has proved his worth and fought alongside the people of La Rochelle for many years with selfless commitment.”
With those 140 characters, she created a political scandal widely reported by the media. In retrospect, she “could not have imagined for a second the explosive reaction it would provoke”—and the extent to which it would damage both his political career and their relationship. (Long after the split, Hollande suggested to her that perhaps they “should have split back then.”)
Trierweiler has also expressed regret over the tweet in a recent interview with the U.K. Observer. But in the book she writes that Hollande’s reaction “struck me as unfair because... he was well aware of the circumstances,” and that she had long felt she “had no legitimacy.”
“On the day of the explosive tweet, years of suffering came to a head. I was the one to trigger the detonator, and for that I take full responsibility. But it was François Hollande and Ségolène Royal, with their never-ending games—mixing private and public spheres, using family pictures and ambiguous statements who built the ticking bomb.”
The beginning of the end
When Hollande’s affair with actress Julie Gayet was revealed last January, Trierweiler hoped for a “Clintonesque scenario,” in which she would, like Hillary, ultimately stand by her man (“I was not prepared to lose him”).
She claims that press accounts of her immediate emotional collapse were greatly exaggerated: “I remained calm; I did not get angry or shout. And there was certainly no broken china as rumor has it—I am allegedly responsible for millions of euros of imaginary damage.”
Like the Clintons, her gut reaction was to contain the scandal: “In that moment, I felt more concerned by the potential political damage than by our personal shipwreck.”
Trierweiler claims that Hollande, a socialist, showed contempt for the poor, supposedly calling them “the toothless.” She then unleashes a torrent of class rage against her romantic rival, who comes from a well-heeled family: “I thought back with bitterness to my family who ‘ain’t a pretty bunch’ when I found out that, during his affair with Julie Gayet, François had been to her parents’ lavish château–17th-century walls surrounded by a magnificent park. It is certainly more stylish than a council flat in a small-town banlieue! Much nicer than a mobile home in the middle of a starless campsite not too far from the sea.”
Staff at the Elysée “sedated her”
When Trierweiler was hospitalized for an emotional breakdown just days after the Julie Gayet bombshell went public, she claims that the Élysée ordered doctors to “sedate her” so she would not be able to accompany the president on his “New Year wishes event in Tulle—planned for that week.”
The couple had much history in Tulle (they had even discussed getting married there) and Trierweiler wanted to be by his side. “François was the elected representative of that little town and I had not missed a single one of his speeches there in years. It was our ritual—one the citizens of Tulle had come to expect, too.”
But when the event approached, her blood pressure had plummeted, leaving her incapacitated. “It was only later that I found out why: I was being heavily sedated to stop me from going to Tulle. My veins could not cope with the overdose.”
It is unclear how Trierweiler came to the conclusion that the Élysée had allegedly been ordering the doctors to sedate her. She writes that her doctor “was worried about me getting behind the wheel,” and that she argued with him frequently about this and expressed her desire to be released from the hospital so she could accompany the president to Tulle.
Her doctor “later told me that he had been to the Élysée to keep the president informed of my condition,” but she never learned “how much they discussed and whether that is when they decided on the ‘anti-Tulle’ operation.”
Trierweiler stresses that, according to her doctor’s grave diagnosis, Hollande’s infidelities were unique in their cruelty: “I have been medicated for four months,” she writes in a chapter of the memoir dated May 2014. “As a prominent psychiatrist put it, ‘I have rarely witnessed such a violent shock.’ In spite of the treatment, I still occasionally break down over the smallest of things—sometimes all it takes is a minor detail and the brutality of what I went through re-emerges.”
Flowers and regret
In the months following Trierweiler’s hospitalization and finally her official separation from Hollande, the media narrative was that she was jettisoned by the president. But privately, according to Trierweiler, Hollande slithered back and attempted to rekindle the mortally wounded relationship.
“For three months he had been harping on that he had made a mistake and had lost his way,” she writes in May 2014. “He was forever repeating that I was the only one he loved and that he had barely seen Julie Gayet… [and] he told me he regretted our separation. Just four days previously he had mentioned the possibility of rekindling our relationship.
“He sent me flowers at every opportunity, including when I was abroad. He swore undying love. Some days it touched me. His renewed flame weakened my resolve. The door opened a crack and for a second I was tempted to give in again. But I quickly shut that door. I had regained my freedom and I relished it. I could not forgive him.”
A journalist, not a first lady
In retrospect, Trierweiler realizes that she wasn’t fit to be first lady of France: “I should have understood that this new world was not made for me. I am a spontaneous person, I have always been forthright, I say what I think—I am from a working-class background that hides nothing. The political elite is rather used to things being underhand; things are unspoken—you greet those you despise with a wide smile and malign them behind their back. I was ill-prepared for this life, and for that I paid the price.”
The betrayal of his political ideals
Trierweiler attacks Hollande from every angle, claiming that he has been a terrible Socialist president, always attempting to appease his opponents and, in the process, betraying his political ideals: “Until now, I have avoided broadcasting any of my political opinions about François’ policies.
“The way public affairs have drifted saddens me enormously... I cannot keep track of the number of times he has flip-flopped… I know how he hesitates and plays for time—only to quietly do a U-turn without feeling like he owes anyone an explanation. Does he still know which side is left?”
Thank you for the moment... but not really
Trierweiler explains the book’s title on the last page, ending with a sarcastic note of thanks to her former lover: “The time has come to end this story, written through my tears, my sleepless nights and my memories—some wounds have healed, some still hurt. Thank you for this moment, thank you for this mad love, thank you for this trip to the Élysée. But not only that. Thank you, also, for the chasm of despair you pushed me into.”