IN THE smart bistros and chic restaurants of upmarket Paris, it is the only topic of conversation.
French president François Hollande is coming under increasing pressure to clarify his personal relationships after Closer magazine last week reported on his alleged secret affair with the actress Julie Gayet.
One French paper said yesterday that the report was “catastrophic” in every way for Hollande. The situation is not helped by the fact the president, who lives with his partner, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, at the Élysée Palace, is making a key policy announcement on Tuesday.
Indeed, some fear it may be overshadowed by the allegations. “Having to explain, a few minutes before sketching out his vision for France, instead, what he has in mind for his relationship [with Trierweiler] promises to be a highly interesting performance,” the Sud-Ouest newspaper wrote.
The French newspapers have had a field day with the revelations yesterday. L’Alsace newspaper described the allegations as “catastrophic in every possible way for François Hollande”.
The L’Est Republicain said in an editorial that Tuesday’s announcement was “expected to mark a political resurgence by confirming the social-democratic shift” the president hinted at in a New Year address, but that “all eyes will now be on the president’s reaction”.
Hollande, who took office in May 2012, has seen public support slipping recently. One poll in November gave him just 15 per cent support, the lowest for any president in the past 50 years.
Hollande said the publication was an “attack on the right to privacy”. He said he might sue, but did not deny it.
Tuesday’s press conference was intended to be a platform for the president to launch his economic programme for the year ahead – detailing a much-anticipated new tack in efforts to spur growth and create jobs.
However, the president may now be forced into making some kind of official statement on his personal position in order to clear the ground. Questions being asked among the Parisian chattering classes include whether Hollande is now in a relationship with the actress Julie Gayet, and if so whether Trierweiler will continue to reside at the Élysée Palace.
She is currently scheduled to accompany him on an official visit to the United States next month.
Closer’s article describes Hollande riding across Paris on the back of a scooter to see his alleged lover. The weekly French tabloid, criticised in 2012 for publishing topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge, printed seven pages of photos of comings and goings outside a Paris apartment block to support its allegation.
“François 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 the president’s office said.
Closer has now removed all reference to the alleged relationship from its website, but has no intention of pulling the publication from news-stands.
While the French have long been indulgent of their leaders’ infidelities, the pictures were an unwelcome distraction for Hollande as he battles to revive the eurozone’s second largest economy and faces record low approval ratings in opinion polls.
According to Closer, movie actress Gayet, 41, is seen arriving at the apartment block in Paris’s upmarket eighth arrondissement late at night.
The pictures then show the arrival of a man resembling Hollande’s bodyguard. A second man – which Closer said was Hollande – then arrives on the back of a scooter.
The figure 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 French films including the 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.
Gayet, a Socialist Party supporter, openly backed Hollande during the 2012 presidential race, describing him in one filmed interview as a man who was “fantastic” and “really ready to listen”.