An Affair? France Shrugs.
By Alissa J. Rubin and Scott Sayare, NY Times, Jan. 10, 2014
PARIS—The photographs show a stout man of middling height striding out of an ordinary-looking Parisian apartment house, a helmet and a dark visor obscuring his face. He gets on a motorized scooter and zooms away into the Eighth Arrondissement.
The face behind the visor, a glossy tabloid magazine called Closer reported on Friday, belongs to President François Hollande of France. The apartment, a short distance from the Élysée Palace, is used for his meetings with an actress 18 years younger than he is, who is not his primary partner, the magazine said.
Revelations of that sort typically do not shock the French people, and this one is no different. But Mr. Hollande, while not denying the report, lashed out at the magazine for violating what he has sought to define as his privacy rights, suggesting that the French president, like any citizen, is entitled to assignations.
In an era of mass violations of personal privacy, including widespread mining of French phone data revealed by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, Mr. Hollande’s appeal for confidentiality appears to have resonated in the country. Moreover, Mr. Hollande, who has abysmally low poll ratings largely because of his handling of the sclerotic French economy, is unlikely to suffer a further backlash from voters over reports of an affair, which rarely generate the sort of public moralizing in France that they do in the United States.
But the relationship, assuming the report is correct, suggests the continuance of a rather complicated love life for Mr. Hollande, 59, one that at times has directly intersected with his public roles and has amounted to a new challenge to the French presumption that the private lives of public figures are no one’s business.
Mr. Hollande, who has never married, was involved for many years with Ségolène Royal, a former presidential candidate for his Socialist Party. The two have four children together. He strongly supported her unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2007, and they appeared together as a couple throughout the race before splitting publicly immediately afterward.
More recently, he has been in a relationship with Valérie Trierweiler, a journalist for the magazine Paris Match who has acted as France’s first lady since Mr. Hollande’s election in 2012. Their relationship began while Ms. Trierweiler was covering Mr. Hollande for the magazine. Ms. Royal and Ms. Trierweiler had engaged in a highly public rivalry that was made particularly plain when, on Twitter, Ms. Trierweiler supported a candidate running in a legislative election against Ms. Royal, who had received the backing of Mr. Hollande. That incident caused a minor political scandal, and Ms. Trierweiler’s Twitter activity has been somewhat less adventuresome since.
Closer, a weekly tabloid that in 2012 drew the ire of the British royal family for publishing topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge, the former Kate Middleton, published an article and a collection of photos on Friday that it said documented Mr. Hollande’s meetings with the actress, Julie Gayet, 41.
The photos appear to show Mr. Hollande and his security detail coming and going by motorcycle on several occasions from the apartment. Ms. Gayet can be seen entering the same building. The photos show a man said to be Mr. Hollande—the man was always photographed wearing a helmet with a full visor—arriving at the building. In one photo, a man in an overcoat with his helmet on is shown as he leaves the building. Mr. Hollande and Ms. Gayet are not shown together.
Ms. Trierweiler made no public comment on the report, and the status of her relationship with Mr. Hollande remained unclear.
Speaking Friday morning on Europe 1 radio, Laurence Pieau, the top editor at Closer, called Mr. Hollande a “normal president” and “a normal person.”
"He’s a president who’s fallen in love," Ms. Pieau said. "We really need to undramatize these images."
The reaction of French people, many of whom said they had already heard the rumor before the magazine’s report, was much the same as Ms. Pieau’s.
Julie Lechevalier, 32, a legal specialist at a technology company, saw it as perhaps not laudable behavior, but hardly something to be condemned.
"This shows our president is a normal man," she said, adding that even if she did not approve morally, Mr. Hollande has "the right to live his life even if he is president of the republic."
The love lives of public officials were long considered off limits for French journalists, some of whom, like Ms. Trierweiler, have become involved with politicians. Several recent presidents have been widely rumored to have had affairs that the news media have avoided publicizing.
A century ago, President Félix Faure expired in the presidential palace at age 58 while engaging in some extramarital sport with a young woman. (Newspapers at the time did not make explicit the circumstances of his death, but one suggested with a wink that Mr. Faure had been “sacrificed to Venus,” the Roman goddess of love.)
Now, a combination of factors, including the Internet and the very public soap opera around former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s divorce and subsequent marriage to a model-turned-singer, Carla Bruni, has changed the news media’s appetite for intimate glimpses into the lives of powerful men.
In interviews, several people said they were comfortable having Mr. Hollande keep his romantic liaison out of public view.
A financial officer at an industrial company, Alexandre Pasquier, 33, said: “The split between private life and public life is very important to me,” adding, “This does not involve a political problem.”
Mr. Pasquier said that although he did not approve of infidelity “on a moral plane,” Mr. Hollande’s apparent affair would not affect either the president’s ability to run the country or the French population’s view of him.
"It’s not going to stain his image," he said. "He has so many other things going badly, this won’t hurt him. It could even maybe give him a boost."