FRENCH president Francois Hollande has threatened to sue celebrity magazine Closer, complaining of breach of privacy, after it alleged he was having an affair with actress Julie Gayet.
The weekly French tabloid, criticised in 2012 for publishing topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge, ran seven pages of photos of comings and goings outside a Paris apartment block to support its allegation.
According to Closer, Gayet, 41, is seen arriving at the block in Paris’s upmarket eighth arrondissement late at night.
Pictures then show the arrival of a man resembling the president’s bodyguard. A second man – said to be Mr Hollande – then arrives on the back of a scooter. He is unidentifiable because he is wearing a black helmet.
Subsequent photos taken in the morning show the first man arriving with what Closer said was a bag of croissants, then the second man in a helmet emerging and jumping on the back of a scooter.
The woman resembling Gayet, who has acted in various films including 2013 comedy Quai d’Orsay, in which she plays a vampish diplomatic adviser in the foreign ministry, then comes out and heads down the street.
“Francois Hollande greatly deplores the invasion of his privacy, to which he has a right as any other citizen does. He is studying what action, including legal action, to take following this publication,” a source in his office said.
The source did not deny the story, however.
Closer said at the request of Gayet’s lawyer, it would remove all reference to the alleged relationship from its website, but there was no mention of plans to pull the publication from news stands.
While the French have long been indulgent of their leaders’ infidelities, the pictures were an unwelcome distraction for Mr Hollande as he battles to revive the eurozone’s second largest economy and faces record low approval ratings.
Gayet, a Socialist party supporter, backed him in the 2012 presidential race, describing him in one interview as “fantastic” and “really ready to listen”.
There was no comment from lawyers for the actress, a mother of two. She filed a complaint for breach of privacy last March, after rumours of an affair with Mr Hollande became public.
Allies and foes defended the president’s right to privacy.
On the streets of Paris, a 30-year-old communications worker who gave her name as Emmanuelle summed up most people’s views. “For me, this magazine is disgraceful. I have no interest in this,” she said. “It’s his private life.”
Marine Le Pen, of the anti-immigrant National Front, normally a vocal Hollande critic, was also uninterested.
“As far as the president is concerned, as long as not a cent of public money was used... I believe that everybody has the right to the respect of their privacy,” she told i-Tele TV.
According to opinion polls, Mr Hollande, 59, is the most unpopular president in France’s modern history for his failure to tackle unemployment, stuck at about 11 per cent, and his perceived lack of authority.
He is in a long-term relationship with ex-journalist Valerie Trierweiler, who has assumed the functions of France’s first lady. Her lawyer declined to comment.
He has four children from a previous relationship with Segolene Royal, a senior member of his Socialist party and a 2007 presidential candidate. She announced their separation just after she lost the 2007 election to Nicolas Sarkozy.
French politicians have in the past been known to have affairs, with little impact on public opinion, most notably in the case of former Socialist president Francois Mitterrand, who had a daughter with his mistress.
The public also shrugged off Mr Sarkozy’s complicated private life – divorced from wife Cecilia in 2007, he married singer and ex-model Carla Bruni in 2008 after a lightning romance.