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Single once more, but not carefree: Francois Hollande

Sunday, 2 February 2014 - 12:21pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
The French president had a spring in his step in Turkey, but still fears his former partner's next move.
  • Francois Hollande AFP

Signs that Francois Hollande felt like a man relieved of a very heavy weight abounded last Monday as he travelled to Turkey to sign a set of trade agreements at the presidential palace in Ankara.

In front of his bewildered counterpart Abdullah Gul, the French president winked at the French press contingent and enjoined them, like a cabaret MC, to "start applauding now!" Minutes later he teased two of his ministers who are notorious adversaries - Arnaud Montebourg (Economic Recovery) and Philippe Martin (Environment) - as they stepped to the dais together to countersign several of the documents: "Only time the two of you will ever sign something together, isn't it?"

The following day, the French president, giving a medal to the very pretty Turkish chanteuse Candan Ercetin, insisted on kissing her on both cheeks several times - then told the audience how much he admired her cover of Edith Piaf's Je ne regrette rien.

This was the first international outing of the newly-single French president, and it was obvious that he was enjoying his freedom. At the same time, his repudiated First Lady, Valerie Trierweiler, was visiting a Mumbai slum in front of a scrum of paparazzi, kissing children and issuing platitudes on fighting world hunger.

And yet on Wednesday at the Elysee, after the weekly Cabinet meeting, when Hollande took aside one of his closest friends, Employment minister Michel Sapin, to brief him on his trip, he stated: "I have to tell you that things went swimmingly well in India". "You mean Turkey?" Sapin said. "Yes, yes, Turkey."

That Freudian slip showed the President's actual concern. The Turkey trip was a success - Hollande was a welcome change from Nicolas Sarkozy, a steadfast opponent of Ankara's entry into the EU - but this may have been the one bright spot in his week. In addition to the disastrous 2013 unemployment figures, the President has had to contend with criticism from the remnant of his dwindling political base, mostly from feminists who felt revulsion at the way he dumped Trierweiler, with an 18-word communique to Agence France Presse.

The President didn't help his cause when, having agreed to a very reasonable settlement with Trierweiler - he will pay the rent on the flat they shared, and contribute to her children's education costs - he then complained to associates that "women will have cost me a fortune".

Hollande also made a point of securing Ms Trierweiler's job at her current employers, Paris Match. Since her liaison with the Socialist candidate became an embarrassment, she had been taken off the political beat and given an easy gig reviewing books from home. She kept that when Hollande won, saying that it was her only security, and nobody wanted to be in bad terms with the First Lady. Everyone was now aware the situation had changed, and having received Ms Trierweiler's complaints whenever Match coverage didn't please her, her editors were less than keen to see her back.

But even though Trierweiler's policy so far has been to look as if she's taking the high road ("I am in good terms with the President," she insisted in Mumbai. "He texts me regularly.") Hollande and his aides are terrified that her vindictive nature may resurface. She has already hinted that she may write a book, which apparently she hasn't been barred from in their separation agreement. "She is a live grenade," one aide says.

Already, press coverage looking back at the affair is a source of worry: a Left-wing newsweekly, Le Nouvel Observateur, which supports Hollande, this week published pictures of them in 2002 on the general election campaign, hinting that their affair had begun - and that Hollande had lied to his partner Segolene Royal for years.

Later, in the same pattern, the President lied repeatedly to Trierweiler, she indicated to journalists following her in Mumbai. Again and again, over the last 18 months, she mentioned the increasingly widespread rumours about Julie Gayet, to be told that there was absolutely nothing in it.

Gayet, meanwhile, is floating on air. Film PRs used to say it was "impossible to get an editor to put her on a magazine cover". However, her acting talent is now gaining critical recognition. She has just been nominated for a supporting actress Cesar (the French Oscars) for her part as a somewhat sex-obsessed adviser to the Foreign Minister in Bertrand Tavernier's Quai d'Orsay (a thinly disguised comedy on Dominique de Villepin). This week, Le Monde ran a whole-page profile of her in which her humanitarian concerns, professionalism and talent were lauded in North Korean style. Her proteges miraculously find (or keep) their jobs in the French culture ministry. Every fashion editor in town makes a point of featuring an obscure brand, Bleu Tango, whose face she has become.

And while rumours that she was in Ankara during the presidential visit turned out to be false (it was another Julie Gayet, a young French businesswoman whose life has been made more complicated by the similarity in names), a dark grey limousine with tinted windows, complete with discreet police watcher, has been spotted parking in the Bastille neighbourhood cul-de-sac where she lives in a converted loft. Francois Hollande insists that France doesn't need another First Lady, and that he will live alone at the Elysee. Every paparazzo in Paris is waiting in ambush to snap the first picture of him and his new love.

 




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