Rumours of illicit affair help revive France's interest in 'dull' Hollande
Quelle surprise! Who knew the colourless French president had it in him? writes Aoife Drew
Just how does he do it? Continuing in the age-old tradition of horny French presidents, Francois Hollande has, according to the French magazine Closer, been enjoying a secret affair with Julie Gayet, a striking actress 18 years his junior.
To be honest. Horny and Hollande are not two words anyone, French or otherwise, would normally think of putting in the same sentence. This is a guy whose nickname was Flanby, because his overall appearance and demeanour reminded people of a caramel flan.
But Closer, famous for such scoops as publishing photos of a topless Kate Middleton sunbathing on holiday, last Friday released photos it said are of Mr Hollande and Ms Gayet arriving separately at a Parisian pied-a-terre, a stone's throw away from the Elysee Palace. The man pictured is in a helmet, but the magazine claims that it's him.
The photos came after months of media speculation that there has been an affair going on, while his relationship with 'First Girlfriend' Valerie Trierweiler has reportedly become strained.
The alleged liaison dangereuse seems very well organised, as you might expect. Just like in the song Me and Mrs Jones the lovers SUPPOSEDLY always meet at the same time and same place. It has been claimed that Ms Gayet arrives there in her white Citroen, having come from the Paris apartment where she lives with her two children. Thirty minutes later, Mr Hollande's bodyguard comes to inspect the entry hall of the building. Two or three minutes afterwards, Mr Hollande is allegedly dropped off by an Elysee Palace motorcyclist, and the president spends the night. The same motorcyclist apparently picks him up the next day, after a bodyguard drops off croissants to the happy couple.
Ah la vie est belle! The affair has reportedly been going on for quite some time and it's been the talk of tout Paris for almost a year. Last December, Ms Gayet was teased in a television interview that Mr Hollande had taken to visiting the set of a film she was working on. "The president loves the film. His partner [Valerie Trierweiler] much less," it was joked.
Closer claims the affair has been difficult to manage for both Ms Gayet and Mr Hollande, even leading to them taking a short break last spring when she filed a complaint with prosecutors against bloggers and websites propagating the rumours, but it is alleged they have been spending most of their nights in the hideaway, and even saw in the new year together there.
Now, since the publication of the photos and the media storm that's been generated, they may want to avoid their bolthole.
In a remarkable turnaround, Closer on Friday promised to take the photos down from the website, under pressure from Ms Gayet's lawyer. Mr Hollande has also threatened to sue, and in a public statement said that he "deplored the invasion of his private life". Prime Minister Jean-Marc Aryault backed up this statement, saying that, as a citizen, Mr Hollande deserved privacy.
The public, meanwhile, pretty much expects presidents to enjoy extra-curricular activities. Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Jacques Chirac and Francois Mitterrand each had to contend with speculation about affairs. In Mr d'Estaing's case, his approval ratings soared after he was involved in a crash at dawn with a milk float while he was returning from a night with a lover.
In some ways, Mr Hollande is one lucky guy. The gorgeous Ms Gayet, 41, who is separated from the Argentinian film director Santiago Amigorena, is a well-known actress in France who has not shied away from full-frontal nudity in her films. She supported Mr Hollande during the presidential race back in 2012 and appeared in one of his election campaign videos, referring to him as "humble", "a good listener" and "marvellous".
Well, it's unlikely his official partner Ms Trierweiler is on the same wavelength right now. While she hasn't made a statement or turned to Twitter, as was her wont during the early days of the presidency, she's said to be furious.
And who could blame her? Despite his jovial and harmless appearance, it turns out that dark horse Mr Hollande is quite the ladykiller. This isn't the first time in his life he's been simultaneously linked to two women. In 2007 he left his partner of almost 30 years and the mother of his four children, fellow politician Segolene Royal, to continue an affair with Ms Trierweiler -- although this didn't become public knowledge until much later.
It's ironic that Mr Hollande promised he would be the first ever "normal" president of France. He's normal all right, because he's got an eye for the ladies, just like so many of his predecessors.