The woman who is likely to become first lady of France on May 7th is a 64-year-old former French teacher who met her husband when she was 40 and he was 15 years old.
To some, Brigitte Macron, née Trogneux, is a "cougar" – an older woman who preyed on a younger man. Critics believe her personal ambition has driven the former presidential adviser and economy minister Emmanuel Macron, now 39, to within reach of the Élysée Palace. She has been amused and angered by rumours that he is a closet gay man.
But as Révolution, the manifesto-autobiography he published last year, and Emmanuel Macron: Such a Perfect Young Man by Le Figaro journalist Anne Fulda make clear, the reality is more nuanced. It was Macron, as a super-achieving, precocious teenager, who pursued Trogneux.
Friends and family describe them as a “fusional” couple.
Trogneux has been criticised for dressing head to foot in Louis Vuitton designer clothes, for hanging out with celebrities and, this week, for celebrating Macron’s first-round victory with him prematurely at a fashionable brasserie in Montparnasse.
Perhaps the most unkind remark I've heard – from a woman, this week – was that Macron ought to have chosen Trogneux's youngest child, over Brigitte.
British Vogue describes Trogneux's habitual look: "[a] deep tan, a peroxide-to-honey blonde hairdo, an expensive designer handbag and car-to-carpet heels".
An article in the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, widely quoted by French media in February, said Trogneux resembled "a sympathique friend of Jane Fonda [whose] joie de vivre makes it seems like she's spent the last four decades partying in Saint Tropez."
Perhaps the most unkind remark I’ve heard – from a woman, this week – was that Macron ought to have chosen Trogneux’s youngest child, Tiphaine Auzière, a lawyer in her early 30s who is working for Macron’s presidential campaign, over Brigitte.
But in a France disgusted with womanising politician “collectors”, including the last two presidents, and predators like the fallen IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Macron’s loyalty to the woman he fell in love with as a teenager is refreshing: evidence to some of a strong will and non-conformist streak.
Trogneux's eldest son, Sébastien, an engineer, is two years older than Macron.
"Because the French elect a couple", Trogneux has allowed Michèle "Mimi" Marchand, the co-founder of the Purepeople website and director of Bestimage, to orchestrate photo shoots and tabloid coverage of their unusual marriage. Le Monde calls Marchand "the Mata Hari of paparazzi".
If he is elected, Macron said that Trogneux “will have the role she’s always had . . . she has always accompanied me, because she is the equilibrium of my life. That’s how we function.”
The Trogneux family have been prominent chocolate and macaroon-makers in Picardy for five generations. Brigitte, the youngest of six children, married a banker when she was 20 and had three children.
Trogneux’s eldest son, Sébastien, an engineer, is two years older than Macron. Her middle daughter, Laurence, a cardiologist, was in Macron’s class at the Jesuit lycée La Providence in Amiens. Macron says it’s not necessary for his three stepchildren and seven step-grandchildren to be his biological offspring for him to love them.
Trogneux taught French at "La Pro", where other teachers and her own daughter told her about "this crazy kid who knows everything".
Contrary to news reports, Macron was not in Trogneux’s class. They met at the drama club, which she coached.
Their families opposed the romance. Macron's parents forbade Trogneux from seeing him until he reached age 18. "I can't promise anything," Trogneux told them, in tears.
In Révolution, Macron writes of "a love that was at first clandestine, often hidden, misunderstood by many before imposing itself, but a love which, through tenacity and determination, was able to be lived in the light of day".
Macron and Trogneux spent months writing and producing a play together. “Writing the play was just a pretext,” he wrote. “I discovered that we had always known each other.”
Trogneux said doing theatre with Macron was “like working with Mozart”.
Their families opposed the romance. Macron’s parents forbade Trogneux from seeing him until he reached age 18. “I can’t promise anything,” Trogneux told them, in tears. The day Macron moved to Paris to finish his studies, he told her: “I will come back and marry you.”
Trogneux followed Macron to Paris. "I told myself, I'm going to miss out on my life if I don't do this," she told Paris Match.
“The real courage was hers,” Macron wrote. “She had three children and a husband. I was only a student. She didn’t love me for what I had, for comfort or security. She gave up everything for me.”
Trogneux sometimes jokes about the difference in their ages. He has to stand for the presidency now, she says. “Imagine what I’ll look like in 15 years!”
But the couple resent being portrayed as freaks. “It wouldn’t be the same if the age difference were reversed,” Macron told Fulda. “It says a lot about the persistence of misogyny, and partly explains the rumours. People cannot accept something sincere and unique.” They fought for 15 years to be accepted in other people’s eyes, he added.
They finally married in 2007, a year after Trogneux's difficult divorce became final. In the documentary The Meteor Strategy, one sees a video of Macron thanking wedding guests. They witnessed what he and Trogneux went through, Macron said.
“You accepted it, and you made us what we are today, that is to say something unusual, a couple that is not completely normal, though I don’t like that adjective, but a couple who exist, thanks to you.”
In Paris, Trogneux taught at the prestigious Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague lycée until Macron became minister for the economy. She was a strong presence at the ministry, attending staff meetings and entertaining on her husband’s behalf.
When results came in on the night of April 23rd, showing that Macron had won the first round of the election with 24 per cent of the vote, Trogneux joined him briefly onstage, to chants of “Bri-gitte, Bri-gitte, Bri-gitte.”
“They’re a real couple!” a French friend exclaimed as she watched them. Until now, the romance had seemed too “Hollywood” to be true, fodder for glossy magazines at the hairdressers.
Trogneux attends every one of Macron’s rallies. She is at the same time his greatest fan, adviser, assistant and the coach who tries to prevent him getting a big head by mocking him as Joan of Arc or Jesus.
"All he has to do is look at her to know what she thinks," the writer Philippe Besson, a friend of Trogneux, told Le Monde. "There's immediacy and profound complicity between them."