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Saturday 16 December 2017

Curtain has fallen on the City of Love's premier pair

C'est fini. The relationship between France's very unpopular first couple is finally over, writes Aoife Drew in Paris

Valerie Trierweiler, the current First Lady, and President Francois Holland.Photo: Philippe Wojazer
Valerie Trierweiler, the current First Lady, and President Francois Holland.Photo: Philippe Wojazer
Aoife Drew

Aoife Drew

The writing is, finally, on the wall. Francois "Flanby" Hollande finally came out and said it – la vie en rose is no more for Valerie Trierweiler and Francois Hollande. Yesterday, he confirmed his separation from Trierweiler, telling the French news agency AFP that their "shared life" had ended.

Rumours had been flying thick and fast. On Friday, Trierweiler's lawyer told Le Figaro that she was negotiating "the most dignified possible conclusion" to their relationship. Within a few hours, she issued a statement firing her lawyer and distancing herself from his comments.

Yesterday, French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche announced that a statement would be soon be issued by the Elysee Palace declaring the couple's separation before Trierweiler left for a long-planned trip to Mumbai in support of charity Action against Hunger today. Although the Elysee Palace then denied these reports, reconciliation at that point seemed very unlikely.

There's no denying it has been an ugly and hurtful battle for Valerie Trierweiler, who as one of France's most unpopular women, has enjoyed little public support. Despite his betrayal, she was said to have wanted to forgive Hollande his indiscretions. The First Lady wanted the public to know that he had sent her chocolates and flowers in hospital. Her friends told the press that she saw herself as the French Hillary Clinton and would strive to maintain the relationship at all costs, pardoning him her recent depression and his failure to stand by her side.

But France is not the United States. In the more puritan American culture, it's inconceivable that the president would separate from his wife following such a fracas and the Clintons played the role that was expected of them by the public. Conversely, the French are famously blase about their presidents having affairs (take Giscard d'Estaing, Mitterand and Chirac as examples), but this is the first time that a president has 'dumped' his partner so unceremoniously.

Even Karl Lagerfeld, the Chanel haute couture designer who is not known for his kindness (he once said that curvy women had "no place" on the catwalk) has dismissed Hollande's treatment of Trierweiler as "cruel and heartless". "The way [Trierweiler] was treated I am very much against," said Lagerfeld during Paris Fashion Week. "You cannot do that to a woman you've spent so many years with." Trierweiler is credited with overhauling Hollande's image and having been an effective media aide for him, thanks to her years of experience as a journalist with Paris Match.

But now the media are having a field day over the so-called "normal" president's very irregular love life. The soap opera that now surrounds him is everything he wished to avoid as president, having regularly criticised Nicolas Sarkozy for his very public break-up with ex-wife Cecilia Attias and his speedy marriage to Carla Bruni, after only a four-month courtship.

He's thought to be so angry with the media circus surrounding what is known in France as "the Gayet affair" that he wants to do away with the role of the First Lady altogether, and advisers have told him that he should appear to be "a bachelor president".

It seems that this is exactly the approach Hollande plans to take, in the near future at least. Last week, he was reported to have said to journalist Michael Darmon: "I don't want any more first ladies in the future at the Elysee Palace". Excusez-moi: it's a bit rich for Hollande to focus this problem on the first ladies, rather than himself, as if the women in his life are the ones causing him issues, rather than the other way around. Given Hollande's colourful love life, it's somewhat hypocritical to pretend that first ladies don't even exist.

And what of Julie Gayet, the would-be next First Lady (provided that there will be such a thing)? It's been said that she and Francois Hollande are very much in love. She personally denied last week reports circulating on social media that she is pregnant, but other than that, has remained silent about the affair. She is continuing to live her life as normal in her comfortable apartment in Paris' 11th arrondissement, working on a documentary and bringing her children to school.

Her ex-husband Santiago Amigorena has reported that she is doing just fine: "Julie is very calm with all this and very sure of herself because nobody's done anything wrong, nobody's cheated on anyone."

One thing, however, is certain: with Valerie Trierweiler exiting the Elysee Palace and out of the picture, and Julie Gayet waiting in the wings, Paris is more than ever, the City of Love.

Irish Independent

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