French television viewers caught a rare glimpse of their president as a human being in an interview broadcast at the weekend.
Emmanuel Macron wore a polo neck jumper, smiled and winked repeatedly and replied with rare candour in a meeting with autistic amateur journalists which was recorded at the end of November and broadcast for the first time on Saturday night.
About 40 journalists from Les Rencontres du Papotin (“chit-chat meetings”), a newspaper set up in a Paris banlieue in 1990 for would-be journalists on the autistic spectrum, questioned the president freely about his love life, friends and family, money and Vladimir Putin. They called him by the familiar “tu” and he addressed them in the same way. It was Le Papotin’s first televised interview.
In an obvious comparison to Macron’s relationship with his wife Brigitte, who is 24 years his senior, a journalist asked, “Why isn’t it possible for a patient to fall in love with a carer?”
“I think it is possible,” Macron replied. “In my opinion, it happens. The principle of love is that everything is possible. Love, you don’t really choose. It falls upon you. It’s not written anywhere that it must be someone like you, of the same age or from the same place as you. It’s something stronger than you, that is beyond you.”
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The next journalist was too shy to ask his question, so he handed it to Macron on a piece of paper: “He is the president. He should set the example and not marry his teacher,” Macron read aloud.
“It’s not about setting an example or not, you see?” Macron replied. “When you’re in love, the choice isn’t yours.” He tried to fudge the fact that he, a teenager, had seduced a married teacher with three children. “She wasn’t really my teacher. She was my drama coach. It’s not quite the same.” Laughter broke out and someone said, “He’s crafty, crafty”. Macron joined in the laughter.
Brigitte’s first meeting with Macron’s parents did not go well, he admitted. “I think you always imagine the pattern of your own life for your children. A certain normality. When something happens which does not correspond to your plan, you’re not at ease with it. Parents worry about you in the beginning. It made me more determined to follow my path.”
Macron twice failed the entry examination for the École Normale Supérieure, France’s most prestigious literary faculty. He attributed the setback to his affair with Brigitte. “I was too much in love to be serious,” he said.
Brigitte Auzière divorced her banker husband and followed Macron from Amiens to Paris. The couple finally married in 2007.
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Asked about friendship, Macron said, “This isn’t the best job to have a lot of friends.” His family? “I already have three children and seven grandchildren,” he said before explaining, “My wife had three children when I met her and married her. So I took them with her.”
The French leader responded cheerfully to questions which would have angered him in a press conference. “Do you earn a lot of dough?” a participant asked. “That depends what you call a lot of dough,” Macron replied. “To tell the truth, I had more before I was president. Now I have a lot less!” The questioner followed up. “Compared to the average, yes,” Macron added. “Compared to those taking decisions in companies, no.”
A participant said he found Vladimir Putin frightening and asked what Macron thought of the Russian leader. “At first, when you meet him, he is not unpleasant. That’s the paradox,” Macron replied. “Nothing justified starting the war,” he added.