Monday 24 October 2016

French president Hollande brushes off criticism of hair-raising bills

Published 14/07/2016 | 12:51

French president Francois Hollande looks on during the Bastille Day parade in Paris (AP)
French president Francois Hollande looks on during the Bastille Day parade in Paris (AP)

French president Francois Hollande has hit back at criticism of the exorbitant price of his haircuts.

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Revelations that the Socialist leader - elected on a populist mandate of taxing the super-rich - spends nearly 10,000 euros (£8,300) a month on his presidential barber has been dubbed #Coiffeurgate.

In his traditional Bastille Day televised interview, Mr Hollande, 61, who has thinning, dark hair, was forced to defend his spending.

He said that since being elected in 2012 as a self-styled "Monsieur Normal" and defender of the poor, he has cut his own salary by 30%, reduced the Elysee Palace budget by 9 million euros (£7.5m) and cut its staff by 10%.

"You can reproach me on anything you like, but not on that," he said, visibly uncomfortable with the subject.

Declaring that he was not the person responsible for overseeing his grooming arrangements, Mr Hollande said that "concerning the hairdresser's costs, we used to use external contractors until now, and I preferred that it was handled from here".

Critics expressed surprise that a leader whose hair is thinning could spend so much per month, when a posh men's haircut in Paris costs about 50 euros (£42). There was no suggestion that the money was being used for hair plugs or other surgical hair costs.

Detractors noted that Mr Hollande was elected because comments such as "I do not like the rich" marked a strong contrast with the image of his conservative predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, who loved flashy jewellery and fancy restaurants.

The barber's monthly salary could also anger French workers, coming on a day when Mr Hollande was defending his government's divisive labour law reforms, which have triggered crippling strikes across the country. The new laws make it easier to hire and fire workers and to expand the working week.

French media calculated that Mr Hollande's monthly hair spending is nearly four times that of an average French worker's salary.

The Bastille Day interview follows the country's national military parade down the grand Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris. If polls are to be believed, this could be Mr Hollande's last Bastille Day as France's leader.

The original story by the Le Canard Enchaine newspaper was confirmed on Wednesday by French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll, who awkwardly tried to defend his boss.

"Doesn't everyone have their hair done?" he quipped, adding that the barber is present in France and on trips abroad. "He is always there."

Others defending him included his ex-partner Valerie Trierweiler, with whom relations have been frosty since 2014, after a tabloid magazine exposed Mr Hollande's affair with actress Julie Gayet. Ms Trierweiler took to Twitter to say that Mr Hollande initially did not know about the high salary for his barber, and was furious when he found out.

Mr Hollande's image has been important for his political persona since the once-portly politician drastically slimmed down ahead of his 2012 election victory.


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