Axed First Lady 'happy to be among the poor'
Valerie Trierweiler stepped on to the world stage without President Francois Hollande at her side yesterday, and in her first public utterances since their break-up declared: "Don't worry about me, I have time to think about the future."
As her ex-boyfriend headed to Turkey on an official state visit, Ms Trierweiler (48) was at a charity event 3,000 miles away in Mumbai, India, with just a single bodyguard to show for her previous status as France's unofficial first lady.
Putting a brave face on her diminished status, she insisted: "I feel good, I'm happy to be here," as she launched a campaign against childhood malnutrition, and added: "I have the impression I'm being useful for something."
Just hours before she entered Dharavi, Mumbai's most notorious slum, where she held wasting infants and comforted their mothers in a local hospital, she had confided in friends that she was delighted to have left Paris, and the shock of discovering Mr Hollande's affair with actress Julie Gayet (41) behind her.
She told colleagues who joined her on the Air France flight to India that she could never envisage returning to her previous job as a political journalist with the magazine 'Paris Match', for which she continues to review books, and hoped to devote more of her time to the anti-poverty charities she had supported before she became first lady. Her visit had been planned long before a magazine published photographs of Mr Hollande arriving on a motor scooter for secret liaisons with his new and younger lover.
Ms Trierweiler visited the Sion Hospital where she met children in intensive care, mothers in a maternity ward, and later spoke to nursing mothers and children under five suffering from pneumonia, dysentery and other malnutrition-related diseases.
"She spoke to the children and their mothers. She said she will help them," said Dr Alka Jadhav, a senior paediatrician. Later, as she launched the newly created Fight Hunger Foundation in a ceremony at the Taj Mahal Hotel, she said she had been horrified by what she had seen.
"When I took a child in my arms... they are innocent and poor, they should not be subject to malnutrition. It shocks me," she said. "I have three children and obviously they have never faced such a problem. In France there are poor children but no one has malnutrition. It does catch my heart and I would like to do something about it."
According to the charity, one child dies of malnutrition every 30 seconds in India, and it hopes to save the lives of three million over the next three years. The group will focus on identifying children at greatest risk and feeding them a fortified peanut butter to keep them healthy.
Ashwini Kakkar, the foundation's chairman, praised Ms Trierweiler's commitment and said she would play a vital role in its campaign despite no longer being the first lady of France. "It's not always about being in a position. What value do I bring to the party? She has a commitment to bring her best to fighting hunger and malnutrition," he said.
Patrick Biancone, Ms Trierweiler's Elysee chief of staff, dropped a heavy hint that she saw herself as destined to play an ambassadorial role in the vein of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
"She has not gone back to being a simple citizen," he told reporters in India. "She is an ex-first lady. That gives her a special status."
Her trip came amid reports in France that Mr Hollande had desperately tried to convince her not to travel to India, to no avail.
The president, who let it be known that he intends to retain "bachelor" status and travelled alone to Turkey to discuss its revived EU membership bid, was accused by several opposition figures in France of ending his relationship in a decidedly unchivalrous fashion. (© Daily Telegraph, London)