Closer, the French tabloid magazine that also was responsible for releasing topless photos of Kate Middleton during her holiday in the South of France, has brought the country to its knees after President Francois Hollande’s affair to the very public eye. Now, for most politicians in the rest of the world, such a revelation would signal the death knell of their political career, rendering them into a laughing stock. But when you are the French President you just shrug and say “c’est la vie… privee” (“that’s life… private life”).
When Francois Hollande was elected President of the Fifth Republic of France in 2012, he probably knew that the path to securing a second term in the Elysee Palace would not be easy. The financial crisis of 2008 had dealt a severe blow to the French when it became clear that the world and more importantly, Europe was not as secure as they believed. A crippling national debt, the stagnant rate of the creation of jobs, the rise of unemployment, social tensions, the issue of legalising same sex marriage, and the international coverage of the political scandal involving DSK with a maid in a hotel room all added to the sense that France was in serious trouble.
As if this incredibly long list of serious problems plaguing the state were not enough, the icing on the decaying cake is that Hollande is a socialist. Not an easy feat in a country that does not have a great track record for socialist presidents.
While Hollande did not publically deny the accusations and it would therefore be libellous to claim that he is the figure in the photos, these are the facts:
– A figure in a motorcycle helmet entered a building where the actress, Julie Gayet, arrived shortly after
– The man wearing a helmet wears the same shoes and size as the President
– The mystery man’s body guard is also the bodyguard of the President
– The mystery man and Julie Gayet left the apartment the following day… after the bodyguard brought a breakfast consisting of croissants to the front door, of course. This is still France after all.
The French have the reputation, whether it is true or not, of believing that the love affairs conducted by their politicians do not have an impact on their judgment and their capacity to fulfil the requirements of the job. President Mitterrand had a love child that was one of the worst kept secrets within the Elysee. Sarkozy left his then wife for a beautiful model, Carla Bruni, whose love life was often the cause of much scandal. However, and unfortunately for Hollande, the French seem to have become tired of these politicians’ behaviour making France seem like a joke to the rest of the world. In a time where most households are facing hard economic times and making tough financial decisions, having the President’s love life splashed across the news was a step too far in the wrong direction. This man who proclaimed to be “Mr Normal” had a family life that was very “a”normal. Hollande is not a married man, although this does not mean he is single. Hollande’s then partner, Valérie Trierweiler, is a journalist for Paris-Match. His other ex, Ségolène Royal – the mother of his four children, was the Presidential candidate for the socialist party in 2007 and was even in the final debate against Sarkozy. Now his mistress has gone from a little known actress to being on the front cover of French Elle magazine and almost every other national newspaper. The one thing the people of France have learned from this highly complex love triangle (or would it be a love square?) is that Hollande has a type of woman in mind, since they all bear remarkable similarities between each other. Each has a very slender build, beauty, and intellect alongside height, in comparison to his small stature. Ladies, take note or take cover.
Ironically, once the affair became known in the public domain, Hollande’s approval ratings noticed a sharp increase. Given that he now holds the dubious record for being the President with the lowest approval rating, this must seem like a godsend. The affair might even be construed as part of an elaborate PR strategy as, after all, how can anyone forget the bad taste debacle that was Hollande’s presidential campaign video. The clip was set to “Ni**as in Paris” by Jay-Z and Kanye West while he visited the poorest parts of the country getting predominantly working class families and immigrants to declare their support.
However, the timing of the romantic revelation could not have been worse since news broke just days before his biannual address to the nation and a state visit to the United States for an official meeting with Obama. Hollande was ready to announce a shift in his policy but the press just wanted to know whether he would choose Julie or Valerie. The answer surprised everyone, including his partner of seven years. Cleaning up his shambolic love life, Hollande released a statement about Trierweiler, whose unofficial title was the “first lady”, or “first girlfriend” in the press, in a style that bore similarities to an employer firing an incompetent person. This came after she was released from the hospital after suffering from exhaustion.
She claims that the decision was solely his. “It takes two to be in love but only one to leave,” she added.
French laws, put in place by the French politicians themselves funnily enough, are incredibly rigid when it comes to matters of a private nature. In the end, Hollande was naïve to believe that once the photos had been taken of him leaving on the back of a scooter, they would never be allowed to see the light of day. The Economist cited Franck Louvrier, who served under Sarkozy as a presidential communications director, and his tweet that “Politicians’ private lives no longer exist”, which Hollande has proven to be true. He believed that everyone has the right to a “private life” but then again, not every Frenchman is the President of the Fifth Republic.
Hollande, next time, if there is a next time (in the Elysee, not another affair), keep your motorcycle helmet on but also change your shoes.
Correction: A previous version of the article mistakenly stated that Valerie Trierweiler is the mother of Hollande’s children.