Hollande ignites a blazing row between fiery femmes
The French leader's current amour and his ex have been slugging it out on Twitter, writes Julia Molony
Rumours of conjugal disharmony stalk the Elysee Palace. When Valerie Trierweiler, official consort to the French President Francois Hollande, published a book earlier giving a carefully diplomatic, first lady's eye view of his election campaign, it bombed. But unfortunately for her, a new one Entre Deux Feux (Between Two Fires) of which she is the subject, but not the author, has been flying off the shelves. Mostly because it offers an account of her as a neurotic, jealous and insecure diva, who is consumed by a "thirst for revenge" against Hollande's ex, the beautiful politician Segolene Royal.
To be fair, Trierweiler asked for this. It was she who opened the door for this reading of her character with one fatal tweet, which has now gone down in French political history. A rash impulse on Twitter publicly opened the can of worms that is the personal life of Monsieur Le President. And having painstakingly developed an image as the quiet living, Mr Normal, Hollande isn't happy about it. Tweetgate started when Trierweiler used the social networking site to take a pop at Royal, her fella's ex, and the mother of his four children, who was in the running for a crucial parliamentary election at the time.
Trierweiler tweeted her support for Royal's rival and her wish was granted. The other candidate won and, according to Entre Deux Feux, what has been a long-standing territorial rift between two important women in Hollande's life, was made public.
With predictable sexism, French tabloids have smirkingly speculated as to how a man who can't keep a firm handle on his woman could possibly keep control of the fate of his country and that of Europe. The thought that the socialist Hollande might not see controlling his woman as part of his remit presumably never occurred to them.
Nonetheless, it's clear that the debacle has embarrassed the president. When he came to office earlier this year, Hollande was determined to impress upon the public his everyman agenda, to demonstrate his difference following all the celebrity spectacle courted by his predecessor Sarkozy, the man who earned the nickname President Bling Bling because of his high-rolling lifestyle, his supermodel bride, his colourful personal life and his showy entourage.
The degree to which Hollande has been at pains to define his image in opposition to this cannot be overstated. This summer, when he and Trierweiler took their annual leave, they travelled by train to the official summer retreat. Which was as clear a message as the one Kate and Wills conveyed when they took an easyJet flight on holiday.
But now, with her prima-donna antics, the hot-headed Trierweiler threatens to undo all of that. Hollande's own son has expressed concern about her behaviour, suggesting that it puts in jeopardy his father's steady image, and adding to the impression of inter-familial tensions. Even Hollande himself has been drawn to comment.
"I am for a clear distinction between public and private life. I believe private matters should be regulated in private and I have asked those close to me to respect that," he said.
Despite its measured tones, the response seemed to hint at sharp words behind closed doors.
Trierweiler, apparently admonished, spoke out again with a mix of regret and insouciance, promising that she'd "count to 10" before tweeting in future.
Royal herself didn't take the opportunity to pour water on the row, deciding instead to retaliate. She declared tweet-gate as a "poisonous stab in the back". By all accounts, she's no pushover herself and she and Trierweiler have history to put it mildly. There was overlap between the two women in Hollande's life. When he took up with Trierweiler, a correspondent for Paris Match covering the Socialist Party at the time, he was still officially involved with Royal, who tried to have the other woman fired, in order to limit her contact with Hollande.
But so far, Hollande's public approval doesn't seem to be suffering.
And, questionable behaviour aside, the hair-tossing, stamping and pouting that plays into every cliche of the haughty femme Francais, in a strange way, Trierweiler adds a certain je ne sais quoi -- for now, at least, before things get too out of hand.
The French left-bank intelligentsia might hold these sorts of tabloid antics in disdain, but there's something decidedly 'egalitaire' about Mr Hollande's taste in women.
He's not interested in a Samantha Cameron-style trophy, he likes a dame with fire, and ambition.
Even if it costs him.