France’s First Dame Wrestles with Fame
The first question many observers outside France may have when they see new President François Hollande standing next to First Lady Valérie Trierweiler is: How on earth did the balding and bespectacled Hollande – who is hardly attractive, suave, charismatic or fit – charm the pants off that woman?
Hollande and Trierweiler struck up a relationship five years ago, arguably at a time when Hollande hit rock-bottom career-wise. In 2008 he was ejected from his post as the Socialist Party chief after overseeing a dark decade in which his political camp suffered back-to-back defeats in the presidential and parliamentary polls.
Many here said he was washed up and one could argue that the best thing going for Hollande back then was Trierweiler.
An opportunist Trierweiler is not. She is attractive and smart. A self-made woman, Trierweiler grew up in a modest family far from the French capital. She excelled in her studies and then as a journalist at the glossy Paris Match, where she covered French politics. After she began dating Hollande, she was put on the magazine’s culture desk.
No, in France, no one seems worried about the ostensible "sexy" gap that separates Trierweiler from Hollande. But less than a month on the job, the first lady does seem to be getting on everyone’s nerves. The questions being asked about her are: "Why does she shun the title of First Lady?" and "How can she be allowed to keep her journalism gig?"
Perhaps annoyance and reproach are the natural reactions that emerge in people when they think someone, Trierweiler in this case, has it all, but wants none of it.
To start, she doesn’t want to be called the First Lady. “It's not that I dislike [the title],” she told France Inter radio in a June 7 interview. “It’s just that I find it a little bit outdated.”
Trierweiler went on to explain that “since she wants to change things a bit” she thinks it would be best to renew the term First Lady, and that while she is still looking for the right words she is tickled by “first journalist.”
First Girlfriend, Lady Trii, Queen of Spades, The Other Woman and The Iron Lady are some of the least offensive monikers among hundreds that have flooded websites like Atlantico and the French version of the Huffington Post.
But Trierweiler has unleashed an even louder controversy about her wish to keep working as a journalist at Paris Match – a wish that at least for now will be granted. Handfuls of dissenting French journalists have jumped up to blast what they see as a clear conflict of interest, no matter what subject she will be covering for her employer.
To her critics, Trierweiler answers that she is not married to Hollande, and that she does not expect him or the state to pay for her or her childrens’ expenses. Like Hollande, Trierweiler has children from a previous relationship.
At the same time, it does not seem she is ready to renounce the office space or the advisors she will get at the Elysée Presidential Palace.
In short, Trierweiler wants to hold onto her "normal" life, complete with some of the perks her new one brings.
Guess what? Your life can’t be normal when you bag the guy who has “French President” written on his desk. That’s what a growing number in France are saying. Or maybe they’re just jealous Trierweiler has her brioche and is eating it too.
Which takes us back to Mister the President himself - if he still wishes to be called by that antiquated title – who has remained safely out of the debate surrounding his girlfriend.
Hollande must be used to people paying more attention to his hot companion at dinner parties, but doesn’t he deserve at least some scrutiny in this affair? That’s another question the French don’t seem interested or willing to entertain.