François Hollande’s family entente undone
FRANCE’S new president failed to defuse the public row involving his live-in girlfriend, his former partner and his eldest son yesterday during an interview to mark Bastille Day.
François Hollande, 57, had agreed to take a question about “tweetgate”, as the family feud has become known, during a live TV appearance.
However, when reporters asked for his reaction to the row, which began with a tweet sent out by his partner Valérie Trierweiler, 47, during last month’s parliamentary elections in which she expressed support for the political opponent of his ex-partner Ségolène Royal, 58 – the mother of his four children – it was clear he did not want to dwell.
“I am for a clear distinction between public life and private life and so I consider that private affairs should be sorted out in private,” he said in the interview aired by broadcasters TF1 and France-2.
The affair may have tarnished France’s new leader’s carefully-cultivated image as “Mr Normal” – credited with helping him win the spring election with the support of voters weary of his flashy predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.
However, Hollande’s insistence that he intended to keep his public and private lives separate, adding that he had asked those closest to him to do the same, is unlikely to draw a line under the affair.
Since the tweet emerged, it has set the French political establishment aflame, and turned the Socialist president’s image on its head.
Widely criticised as a vindictive move, the tweet went viral and dominated TV news.
“He campaigned for a clean break with Sarkozy, but it was a big mistake for Valérie, as it put his private life into public view,” political communications expert Arnaud Mercier said.
According to behind-the-scenes reports in the media, both Hollande and his children were furious, but all sides moved to limit the damage and tried to keep the feud under wraps.
Trierweiler has kept a low profile since. She was notably absent when Hollande visited London early last week. The Twitter account of Hollande’s eldest son, Thomas, reads discreetly: “I don’t count on tweeting for the moment.”
Thomas maintained his discretion until last week when the 27-year-old broke his silence, speaking out against his father’s partner’s actions to the Le Point news magazine, published last Wednesday.
“I knew that something could come from [Valérie] one day, but not such a big knock. It’s mind-blowing,” he was quoted as saying.
“It upset me for my father. He really hates it when his private life is spoken about,” he said. Then, he added what many were already thinking: “It destroyed the ‘Normal’ image that he’d built up.”
The Elysée Palace tried to defuse the comments, saying on Friday that they were made during a “personal interview”.
Thomas Hollande has said some of his reported remarks had been taken out of context.
Despite those efforts to water down his intervention, “tweetgate” still dominates French media. Thomas’s comments are thought to have pushed his father into speaking out.
Since Wednesday’s article, Trierweiler has been by Hollande’s side in a clear show of unity. French media reported that Hollande allowed diners to take photographs during an intimate dinner with her at a swish Paris restaurant on Wednesday night. Trierweiler is also set to accompany him in engagements this weekend and next week.
Yesterday, she was in the front row of a grandstand set up to watch the Bastille Day military parade, though, like the companions of other French dignitaries, she did not sit next to her partner.
“This is really serious for him now. That’s why he’s going on TV,” Mercier said.
Sarkozy lost May’s presidential election in large part because French voters grew tired of his very public private life, political pundits have said. Conversely, a clear strength of Hollande, slightly portly and very discreet, was his “Mr Normal” image.
Voters thought a Hollande presidency would spell the end of the Elysée family soap opera that saw Sarkozy divorce and take a new wife, haute-couture model turned singer, Carla Bruni, while president.
Commentators are now saying that history seems to be repeating itself.
“He only beat Sarkozy by a small percentage, [owing to] his non-bling, private image … Now he seems no different from Sarkozy, caught between two women,” said Mercier.
The colourful amorous exploits of French leaders are nothing new. François Mitterrand, Socialist president from 1981 to 1995, had a secret daughter with a mistress.
But the French media, which has made it a point of honour to be protective of politicians’ private lives, kept Mitterrand’s affair out of the papers. In today’s world, however, politicians’ every public move is now under the scrutiny of smartphones and Twitter, and maintaining privacy is harder than ever – even in France.
“It’s for sure we’re in an era where the private life of public people is more and more exposed with new media,” said Diane-Monique Adjanonhoun, a political marketing strategist. For Adjanonhoun, “tweetgate” signals the end of the era of politicians’ privacy.
“Presidents now are breaking with Mitterrand’s time... We used to be a private country. But now, whether conscious or unconscious, France is no exception.”
Meanwhile, military jets trailing exhaust in the red, white and blue of the French flag opened Hollande’s first Bastille day parade as president yesterday.
Under an overcast sky, the pomp celebrating the 1789 beginnings of the French revolution began with bagpipes, dressage and several renditions of the Marseillaise national anthem.
Jets then performed overflights in formation before a stream of military units and tanks began rolling down the Champs-Elysées.
The sun struggled to shine through the clouds, but the weather was a vast improvement on Hollande’s last trip down the avenue, when torrential rain soaked his suit and clouded his glasses as he waved from his open-top car on the day of his inauguration.
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Tuesday 18 June 2013
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