Gossip magazine sells out as Hollande’s alleged affair fascinates French public

President threatens to sue ‘Closer’ after magazine publishes ‘dossier’ on alleged affair with actor


At first glance, the man in the black raincoat looks like a member of Daft Punk, the French electronic music duo who disguise themselves in motorcycle helmets.

But France’s leading gossip magazine, Closer identifies him as French president François Hollande, departing an alleged romantic tryst with the actor Julie Gayet, who is shown on the opposite page standing in the doorway of the same building near the Élysée Palace.

Closer sent out a tweet late Thursday night, promising that yesterday’s edition would reveal “in a seven-page special dossier the relationship between the head of state and the actor”. By yesterday morning, millions of French people read the story online, and newspaper kiosks sold all 600,000 copies of the magazine with the lead story titled “The Secret Love of the President”.

Hollande told the AFP that he “deeply deplores the invasion of privacy to which [he] has a right like any citizen.” The president said he spoke as a private citizen, not as head of state. He did not deny having an affair with Gayet, but threatened legal action against Closer.

Socialist militant
Gayet (41) is married to an Argentine director and screen writer with whom she has two children. She has long been a socialist militant. In 2012, she recorded a campaign video for Hollande in which she called him, “humble, marvellous, a really good listener”.

Hollande has never married, but lived for 30 years with the socialist politician Ségolène Royal, with whom he has four children. He eventually left Royal for the journalist Valérie Trierweiler. Insiders say that relationship soured after Trierweiler sent a tweet supporting Royal’s opponent in the 2012 legislative elections.

When Gayet was asked about Hollande on Le Grand Journal television programme last month, Stéphane Guillon, a political satirist who appears in her latest film, burst into laughter. “Hollande visited the set,” Guillon said. “The president likes the film! His wife doesn’t.” It was Guillon who outed Dominique Strauss-Kahn as a sexual predator, years before DSK assaulted a New York hotel maid.

Also in December, the mainstream news magazine L’Express reported that Trierweiler stays in “Madame’s wing” of the Élysée and is no longer seen on the president’s floor. L’Express said Hollande “drives his security detail crazy” by slipping out of the Élysée most nights.

Closer installed paparazzi in an apartment across the street from the love nest where the couple have allegedly met since last June. A series of six photos show, in chronological order, Gayet’s arrival at 10.48pm on December 30th, a security sweep by Hollande’s bodyguard at 11.24pm and Hollande’s arrival one minute later. The bodyguard delivers croissants at 8.03 the following morning. Hollande departs at 11.18am; Gayet an hour later. Because Hollande always wears the motorcycle helmet outside, he cannot be identified with certainty.

It was Closer that revealed Hollande’s affair with Trierweiler in 2007, and the bad blood between Trierweiler and Royal in 2011. The magazine also announced the separation of Strauss-Kahn from his wife Anne Sinclair in 2012.

At least since president Félix “le bel” Faure died while having sex with a mistress in the Élysée in 1899, the French public and media have shown understanding, even good-humoured indulgence, for their leaders’ complicated love lives. With the exception of Strauss-Kahn’s New York outrage, none suffered opprobrium.

French presidential affairs have been too numerous to catalogue. Some entered popular legend: the Canard Enchâiné’s 1974 report on president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s collision with a milk truck at dawn, as he drove a mistress home; Jacques Chirac’s reputation for accomplishing the deed in “five minutes, shower included”; the mistress and secret daughter whom François Mitterrand kept at taxpayer’s expense; Nicolas Sarkozy’s public humiliation when his wife Cecilia was photographed apartment-hunting in New York with her lover, followed by Sarkozy’s comeback with the model and singer Carla Bruni . . .

The long-held, politically correct view is that a politician’s sex life is his own business. That’s what Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, socialist party chief Harlem Désir and the leader of the far right-wing National Front, Marine Le Pen, all said yesterday. Yet for all the indignation about invasion of privacy, nary a sexual liaison escapes the notice of the French elite, who relish detailed gossip over lunches and at dinner parties.

Hollande is certain to be asked about his alleged paramour at his first press conference in eight months on January 14th.

Closer’s use of paparazzi to track the president’s love life marks a step towards tactics similar to those of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World in Britain. French attitudes may also be shifting. “More and more French people think they should know about the private lives of politicians,” the media historian, Patrick Eveno, says. The revelations will not necessarily harm Hollande. “It could help him in the polls,” Eveno predicts. “His image will be less boring grand-dad, more seducer.”