FRENCH President Francois Hollande was facing a private and political crisis last night after a celebrity magazine published photos it says proves he is having a "secret love affair" with a film actress almost 20 years his junior.
Valerie Trierweiler, the "official" first lady to whom the president is not married, recently took up residence in one of the wings of the palace.
'Closer' carried a seven-page report on the alleged infidelity, in which a man it insists is the president arrives on a chauffeur-driven scooter to spend nights in the flat.
Ms Gayet arrives separately. The pair are brought croissants by a man identified as his bodyguard the following morning.
"It's a real passion that has ... turned their lives upside down and makes them take insane risks," the magazine wrote.
A source close to the president said he "greatly deplores the invasion of his privacy, to which he has a right as any other citizen does". The president was "studying what action, including legal action, to take".
Battling record unpopularity levels, the last thing the Socialist president needs is another scandal between the sheets; the two women in his life -- Ms Trierweiler and Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children, have already caused him trouble. The now notorious 'Tweetgate' row saw Ms Trierweiler back Ms Royal's rival in a parliamentary election, leaving Mr Hollande accused of lacking authority personally and politically.
Ms Gayet filed a complaint in March over rumours of an affair with Mr Hollande, which she said were a breach of privacy.
The mother of two, who is separated from their Argentinian father, is an established television and cinema actress who has appeared in more than 70 films.
In December, Stephane Guillon, an actor and comic, dropped heavy hints about the affair during a chatshow where he and Ms Gayet were invited to promote a film in which they co-star.
She appeared a little uneasy but laughed when he said: "The president loves the film (Ms Trierweiler) likes it a lot less." Ms Gayet, a Socialist party supporter, openly backed Mr Hollande during the 2012 presidential race, describing him in gushing interview as "fantastic", "really ready to listen".
Affairs are nothing new in French presidential history -- Valerie Giscard d'Estaing had a car crash at dawn with a milk float while returning from a night with a lover. His approval ratings subsequently went up. Jacques Chirac was privately dubbed "five minutes, shower included".
Francois Mitterrand, the previous Socialist president, managed to keep secret the love child he had with his mistress, Anne Pingeot, for most of his two terms.
But Nicolas Sarkozy learned at his expense that the French can be very unforgiving about their presidents living it up while the country is a pall of gloom. His woes began just as his whirlwind romance with Carla Bruni took flight.
Potentially even more worrying for Mr Hollande is how his official partner, unkindly nicknamed "Rottweiler", will respond.
France's political class, meanwhile, unanimously expressed outrage at what they called an invasion of Mr Hollande's privacy.
Last night, Laurence Pieau, editor of 'Closer', announced it was withdrawing the photos from its website upon request from Ms Gayet's lawyer.
"If there are any legal procedures, regarding (Ms Gayet) it will be for image rights and violation of privacy, but not defamation," said Ms Pieau.
As it digested the revelations, France was left wondering how its wily leader would handle the issue at a major new year's press conference next week. (© Daily Telegraph, London)