France's first lady who loves her job as a scribe

France's first lady who loves her job as a scribe

Hollandes partner Valerie seeks to provide support while keeping her independence

Valerie Trierweiler faces an uncommon predicament. A twice-married, twice-divorced journalist who covered French politics for more than 20 years, she had no inkling that she would one day become France’s first lady. When she fell for Francois Hollande, a jovial, unglamorous leftist politician, he did not seem like presidential material.

French president-elect Francois Hollande reacts to supporters with his companion Valerie Trierweiler after greeting crowds gathered to celebrate his election victory in Bastille Square in Paris, France. AP

But Hollande was elected on May 6 as France’s president, and Trierweiler—whom he calls ‘the love of my life’—is now concerned with preserving her independence while at the same time supporting her partner. “Everyone tells me to prepare myself but I don’t know how to do such a thing,” Trierweiler told the newsmagazine Marianne. “Do we know what first lady means, before this weight falls onto your shoulders?”

On Friday, she told the daily Le Figaro that she would have to ‘think’ about her future role; Elle magazine and other media have quoted her as saying she would continue to work as a journalist to preserve her ‘financial independence.’

In a measure of how European families have changed, Hollande and Trierweiler will be the first unmarried couple to occupy the presidential Elysee Palace, following close on the heels of Germany’s freshly elected president, Joachim Gauck, whose live-in companion is also a journalist.

Concerns about protocol—how to travel to Saudi Arabia, for instance, where unmarried cohabitation is usually not accepted—have stirred some questions about whether the presidential couples should marry. In France, as in Germany, that looks unlikely.
Trierweiler “is scared of being the wife of a president and is looking for models,” said Laurent Binet, who is writing a book about  Hollande’s campaign and thus followed the couple closely. “She sees herself as an active woman.”

Born in 1965 to a disabled father, who lost a leg in a mine explosion in 1944, and a mother who worked as a cashier at an ice rink, Trierweiler grew up modestly, with two sisters and three brothers in a housing project in Angers, in western France.
She moved to Paris at age 18 and studied political science at the Sorbonne. Her first job came in 1988, as a reporter on a weekly political review, Profession Politique, where she was known as a hardworking, strikingly attractive woman.

“Valerie is a very interesting mix of strength, pride and fragility,” said Philippe Labro, vice president of the TV channel Direct 8, who hired Trierweiler in 2005. “She cares for her own identity and loves her job.” (Labro said he had advised Trierweiler to drink a glass of wine before appearing on TV, to calm her nerves.)

Before Hollande made public his relationship with Trierweiler in 2010, she was a discreet reporter who grew passionate about French politics and covered them for the magazine Paris Match. She was host on several shows on Direct 8, interviewing politicians, though she never invited Hollande.

“I didn’t know at all that Trierweiler was with Hollande when I hired her seven years ago,” Labro said. Once he knew, he said, “we agreed with the director of the channel that it wouldn’t be that which would prevent her from working.” He described Trierweiler as a professional, telegenic journalist and a bold interviewer. “She knew the political world very well and had an extensive network,” Labro added.

Political shows

Trierweiler, who did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this article, quit covering politics for Paris Match in 2005 but continued her political shows on Direct 8 - something that in France is not widely seen as a potential conflict of interest.
“We need rules, they exist, but hypocrisy reigns,” Trierweiler told Le Journal du Dimanche in 2010. “All journalists have opinions, they all vote, they all have sympathy, friendships. But they’re not asked to justify them. We believe in their integrity, we trust them, and we’re right to do so.”

Trierweiler became known to the public last year after she was seen applauding and kissing Hollande at campaign meetings. She has also drawn attention for stern Twitter commentary. When Paris Match put her picture on its cover in March, Trierweiler tweeted: “What a shock to discover myself on the cover page of my own magazine,” and added: “Bravo to Paris Match for its sexism.”

Many say that she figured largely in Hollande’s decision to run for the presidency; she appeared happy, if slightly stunned, on stage May 6 in the town of Tulle, just after her partner had delivered his victory speech.

While he is clearly his own man, her influence over Hollande is palpable. On Friday, she confirmed to Le Figaro that she had asked Julien Dray, a controversial Socialist leader, to leave the victory celebration for Hollande's team last Sunday. Between the two rounds of the presidential vote, Dray drew criticism for inviting the disgraced Dominique Strauss-Kahn—the front-runner for the Socialist presidential nomination until a sex scandal in New York last year —to his birthday party at a sleazy bar.

Trierweiler met Hollande in 1988 and the two became friends in 1997, when she covered the Socialist Party for Paris Match and was married to a colleague, Denis Trierweiler. Hollande, for his part, was a party leader and deputy who was partnered with Segolene Royal, then a minister under prime minister Lionel Jospin. Ms Royal later ran for the presidency in 2007, losing against the man Hollande has now beaten, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Trierweiler, who has three teenage sons whom she tries to keep out of the public eye, has described her relationship with  Hollande as a mix of complicity, admiration, and a shared passion for politics. “We had so much pleasure being together, we would talk to each other over the phone almost every day. For hours,” said  Trierweiler in a recent book about French first ladies called ‘Valerie, Carla, Cecilia, Bernadette et les autres,’ by Constance Vergara.

Their love affair started in 2005, she said, only a year before Royal announced that she would run for president. In 2006, an article in Le Point described Royal and Hollande, who had been together for almost 30 years and had four children, as an ‘odd’ couple. “Their driving force is their differences,” the story said.

Hollande acknowledged his affair with Trierweiler in 2010. “It is exceptional luck to be able to achieve one’s personal life and meet the woman of one’s life,” Hollande said. “This chance can pass you by; I took it.” Many people describe the two as a loving couple. The question now is how Trierweiler can reinvent the role of first lady.
“She is the typical Frenchwoman of today,” said Labro. “She has a job, three children, and the conviction that doesn’t want to be simply the wife of someone.”

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