Romance and mystery: How 'bland' Hollande hooked glamorous beauty
Women troubles are nothing new for Francois Hollande, to the bewilderment of those who can't quite see what it is that attracts beautiful, talented females to France's otherwise unloved president.world Updated: Jan 14, 2014 22:40 IST
Women troubles are nothing new for Francois Hollande, to the bewilderment of those who can't quite see what it is that attracts beautiful, talented females to France's otherwise unloved president.
From the lecture halls of the elite Ecole National d'Administration (ENA) to the summit of the state, affairs of the heart have played a central role in Hollande's political journey.
The next step in that journey comes on Tuesday afternoon, when Hollande is due to appear before more than 500 journalists and, the world expects, explain exactly what is going on in his private life.
With his long-term girlfriend, France's First Lady Valerie Trierweiler having taken to a hospital bed with stress following the revelation of Hollande's clandestine trysts with actress Julie Gayet, that will be no easy task.
But, according to those who know him well, it is the price Hollande has to pay for his personality.
He does not seem to be a serial philanderer, unlike his "hot bunny" predecessor Jacques Chirac. But it would appear that, when passion hits, it overwhelms him to the point of clouding his judgement -- as it did when he thought he could get away with nightime visits to Gayet in a borrowed apartment just yards from the Elysee Palace.
"He is the kind of man who can fall in and out of love," said Thierry Mandon, a socialist deputy and long-term ally of the president. "It shows he is (as Hollande describes himself) a normal man, but if he is to be a normal president, he has to clarify his situation very quickly."
It was at the ENA -- a graduate college that is a kind of finishing school for France's political elite -- that he met Segolene Royal. The bright young things bonded over a common outlook and soon formed a political power couple that was to endure for more than 25 years and produce four children.
By the early 2000's the pair were both established as heavyweight figures in the Socialist Party, but Hollande was to find himself eclipsed by his more glamorous partner. She became a high-profile minister and her greater popularity with both activists and voters enabled her to see off Hollande and her other rivals to secure the party's nomination as its candidate for a presidential election she was to lose to Nicolas Sarkozy.
By then, the relationship was on the rocks, Hollande having, according to a number of recent biographies, become involved with Valerie Treiweiler, a feisty and attractive journalist at Paris Match, a glossy weekly.
By 2005, accounts say, they were a couple although, for the sake of Royal's bid for the presidency, he maintained a pretence of happy families until after the vote.
In 2010, Hollande told Gala magazine Trierweiler was the "love of my life". Two years later, on the night of his election victory over Nicolas Sarkozy, she was by his side, famously insisting on a schmaltzy soundtrack of Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose" - a way of declaring to the world that life could not be any better for both the couple and the party, whose symbol is a rose.
But that vision of domestic bliss was soon clouded by rumours of tensions at the Elysee. Trierweiler, a voluptuous beauty once dubbed the "epitome of Parisian chic", was accused of upstaging Hollande with the spiky heels and thigh-flashing skirt she wore on the day they entered the Elysee.
He publicly rebuked her over what looked like a spiteful tweet supporting a renegade Socialist in a battle with Royal for a parliamentary seat -- an act aides blamed on Trierweiler's insecurity about Hollande's maintenance of cordial relations with the mother of his children.
A very French affair
Then, early last year, the first rumours of an entanglement with Gayet began to emerge.
When an affair was finally confirmed last week, the reaction in France amounted to a collective shrug of shoulders and a typically Gallic, "So what! It is nobody's business but theirs."
The rest of the world, meanwhile, was lapping up a saga in which every little snippet, from the national indifference to infidelity to the breakfast croissants delivered to the new couple's love nest, has been quintessentially French.
'Vive la France' has been the verdict of commentators around the world, although the treatment of Hollande, who has the worst approval ratings of any modern president, has not been quite so kind.
Nicknamed "Flanby" (after a kind of wobbly dessert) or "Pepere" (Granddaddy), at home, the portly 59-year-old president has had to endure much worse from foreign observers.
British commentator Cristina Odone wrote that she had spent the weekend giggling with friends at the spectacle of a French president caught "with his pantalons around his chubby ankles."
"We couldn't get over the success this podgy and humourless Leftie enjoys with gorgeous women who should know better," Odone added.
On Twitter, British blogger Willard Foxton was even more cutting.
"I can't help but feel Segolene Royal, Valerie Trierweiler and Julie Gayet could do better than Hollande, who looks like a sweaty potato."
Looks, as history has repeatedly shown, are not everything in love however and another close observer of the French political scene, journalist Anne Elisabeth Moutet, says Hollande's success with women is no mystery.
"It is the Woody Allen method: he makes them laugh and he listens to them."
Now it is the world's turn to listen to what Hollande has to say.
First Published: Jan 14, 2014 18:31 IST