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FRENCH ELECTIONS 2012

France's new first lady steps into the spotlight

Latest update : 13/05/2012

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Article text by Mehdi Chebil

Valérie Trierweiler, the partner of France's newly-elected president François Hollande, has vowed to continue her career as a TV presenter and journalist. Meet the former storyteller who is about to step into the role of France's first lady.

Valérie Trierweiler may not be a former international supermodel, but she has recently generated as many headlines as the woman she is about to replace, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. The soon-to-be new first lady of France has come under the scrutiny of the international press for her unmarried status, marking the first time an incoming French presidential couple are not legally man and wife.

The 47-year-old Trierweiler has covered plenty of political campaigns as a journalist for the glossy weekly magazine Paris Match before becoming part of the story in 2005, when her friendship with François Hollande progressively “deepened”, as she put it in her own words.

Clandestine beginnings

Valérie Trierweiler in Tulle, before the first round of the French presidential election

Hollande was then living with fellow Socialist Ségolène Royal, his partner of 25 years and the mother of his four children. Royal’s defeat in the 2007 presidential election precipitated the dissolution of her relation with Hollande. The clandestine affair with Trierweiler turned into an official romance in 2010, a few months before Hollande launched his own bid for the French presidency.

The sentimental situation seemed to be appeased in early 2012, when the former mistress and the deceived partner joined forces behind Hollande to propel the Socialist candidate into the Elysée palace. Credited for masterminding Hollande’s weight-loss programme, Trierweiler attended electoral rallies from the front row and continued as an unofficial advisor from her office at the Socialist campaign headquarters.

Madame “Normal”

While outgoing president Nicolas Sarkozy made headlines with his whirlwind romance and wedding with a supermodel-turned-folksinger Bruni, the new presidential couple has vowed to keep a lower profile. Trierweiler has made clear that she would like to maintain her previous “working mom” lifestyle as much as possible. The twice-divorced mother of three has refused to give up her career, telling the French weekly Femme Actuelle that she didn't want the state to pay for the children she had before moving with François Hollande.

Trierweiler’s independent-minded character is also visible in the way she dresses, according to women’s magazines. Contrary to France’s past first ladies, the journalist has never embraced the country’s notoriously extravagant fashions, preferring instead affordable brands matching her down-to-earth character.

“For the moment, I dress in ready-to-wear. Lately it has been Georges Rech and Apostrophe, which are quality ready-to-wear brands that I have been wearing on television. I have never worn dresses by big-name fashion designers”, Trierweiler told British newspaper The Times.

From ‘charming asset’ to Socialist Party bouncer

As a woman known for speaking her mind, Trierweiler admitted that the prospect of being first lady was making her “a little uncomfortable”. The French public got a taste of

François Hollande and Valérie Trierweiler

Trierweiler’s boldness during the presidential campaign. When Paris Match put her on its cover abovethe headline “François Hollande’s charming asset” on March 8, International Women's Day, Trierweiler slammed her employer through her tweeter feed: “Bravo Paris Match for its sexism…my thoughts go out to all angry women”.

More recently, Trierweiler didn’t hesitate to kick out a senior Socialist politician, Julien Dray, from a party at Hollande’s campaign headquarter. Dray has been blamed for endangering Hollande’s presidential bid by inviting senior Socialist officials to a birthday party where one-time potential candidate turned pariah Dominique Strauss-Kahn was present, only days before the crucial May 6 runoff.

After years of reporting for a celebrity magazine, Trierweiler is keenly aware of the media pressure that will pile up on the new presidential couple. As she said after Hollande’s election and the publication of a special “souvenir” Paris Match issue, a political journalist stepping into the role of France’s new first lady feels like “the subject of one of my own stories”.

 

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