So far, French President Francois Hollande is having a horrible 2014. The economy is in the pits, his popularity continues to set record lows, and a Dutch newspaper even made fun of the fact that no-one seems to want to shake his hands.
What can Hollande, dubbed “Mr Normal” in his election campaign, do to get out of this jam?
Perhaps the most unlikely plan would be to get photographed allegedly riding a motorbike across the city to spend the night with a 41-year-old actress — a 41-year-old actress who is not the 48-year-old journalist you live with — and then having your “bodyguard” photographed delivering croissants to the apartment in the morning. This is what Closer Magazine, a French publication best known internationally for publishing pictures of a topless Kate Middleton, alleges to have captured with a seven-page photo spread published today, however.
Rumours had been swirling about a possible affair between Hollande and Julie Gayet, and Hollande has a complicated romantic history — while he has never married, his current partner is Valerie Trierweiler, who he hooked up with after having four children with politician Segolene Royal.
While in other countries allegations of an affair might spell political doom, in France things are a little more complicated. For one thing, it’s a pretty common occurrence — Closer Magazine itself notes that Valérie Giscard d’Estaing, François Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac, and Nicolas Sarkozy have been accused of having affairs. France also has different ideas about the level of privacy offered to public figures — it’s notable that rather than denying the allegations of an affair, Hollande has claimed that his privacy has been invaded, and Closer Magazine seem to have acquiesced, as they now say they will be removing the report from their website.
The report may even engender some sympathy for Hollande. “It shouldn’t undermine his presidency,” Philippe Marliere, a professor in French politics at UCL London, told the Local today. “He is already a very unpopular president. People might even look at it and say “wow, she’s very pretty, how did he do that.””
Of course, not everyone agrees. On Closer’s website, a poll about the scandal suggests that 78% of readers think that Hollande’s credibility will suffer.