Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
Here are two little-known facts about Valérie Trierweiler: at 23 she had never flown in a plane or seen the Mediterranean. The elegant mother of three who was dumped publicly in January by the French president after photos were leaked of his affair with the blonde actress Julie Gayet came from a modest background. Her mother was a cashier in an Angers cashier rink, her father, who lost a leg in a mine explosion in 1944, was unable to work. The fifth of six siblings, brought up in poverty, Trierweiler was banned from school friends’ homes for coming ‘from the wrong side of the boulevard.’
France is all agog over the recent publication of Merci Pour Ce Moment (Thank You For This Moment), Trierweiler’s poison-pen memoir of her former relationship with the embattled French president. Even though both she and François Hollande remain epically unpopular – and countless Paris bookshops aren’t stocking her book on principle – her bestselling opus sold out within four days of its launch on September 4. When I visited the La Procure bookshop in Paris, people were calling its Left Bank store on a loop, desperate to secure a copy of the 20-Euro paperback. I asked Benoît, the shop’s young assistant, who exactly was after it. ‘Everybody,’ he replied. By some miracle I managed to snap up a copy and resist flogging it at an inflated price on the Eurostar home.
There is no sex in Trierweiler’s book but plenty of Mills & Boon. Hollande, the portly Socialist president rumoured to own just one pair of shoes, is ‘bewitching,’ their love ‘blinding,’ their attraction so potent that there is an ‘electro-magnetic field’ between them. It all reminds me of those old-fashioned Mills & Boon novels Oxfam sells by the yard – the ones where the bedroom door remains firmly closed.
In bygone times, the two lovers explored the Greek islands on mopeds, carefree as teenagers. On long car journeys they sang the 1976 Joe Dassin song – Il Etait Une Fois Nous Deux (I’ve listened to it on YouTube – it’s very, very French and not particularly cool but I have to say I love it). The world’s most implausible Romeo is a man who ‘spreads gaiety’, teases Trierweiler by driving around on an almost empty petrol tank and affectionately nicknames her ‘Cosette’ after the fictional character in Les Misérables.
Everything goes wrong when they get to the Elysée. As Hollande’s political troubles multiply he cuts her off, leaving Trierweiler, a Paris Match journalist with a sparkling career of her own, increasingly isolated behind the ‘Berlin Wall’ of her apartment. She is frank in her pathological jealousy of Hollande’s former partner Ségolène Royal (the mother of his four children, currently France’s Minister of Ecology) and candid in her dislike of Hollande’s entourage – the ‘band of machos’ as she calls them. The beauteous Julie Gayet is barely mentioned though we’re told her parents own a ‘sumptuous’ 17th century château in a ‘magnificent park.’
Trierweiler’s claim that Hollande refers to the poor as les sans-dents – the toothless – has already dented his image but there are other colourful twists of the knife. We’re told that the Socialist president keen to be seen as ‘Monsieur Normal’ likes staying at the best hotels, and will only eat strawberries if they are gariguette (the much-prized Provence variety) and potatoes if they are from the isle of Noirmoutier (widely seen as the Rolls-Royce of spuds). Unwilling to share the limelight, he dislikes her heels being too high for fear she’ll stand taller than him and, in one episode, orders her to change outfit after declaring her dress ‘too sexy’.
Trierweiler cuts a lonely figure at the Elysée in contrast to Carla Bruni-Sarkozy who was so cherished by Sarko that he installed firewalls on her computer to protect her from the horrors circulating on the Internet. At times it’s hard not to feel just a little sorry for France’s former first lady in the face of Hollande’s indifference – any woman who has watched a once ardent lover turn to stone will relate to this – but the book does leave many questions unanswered. What happened to her first husband Franck? How did her ‘intelligent but sombre’ second husband, Denis, react to the news that she was ditching him for Hollande? Did she feel no guilt for abandoning him and her three sons?
In the course of its 320-pages Hollande is portrayed as a cold-hearted workaholic dehumanised by power and incapable of empathy. We are told that he has never once invited his father or brother to the Elysée Palace, that he can’t stand sickness or disability in others, that he ensures she is given ‘astronomical’ doses of tranquilisers to keep her out of the way on her admission to hospital following the discovery of his infidelity. Who knows in the soap opera of the French presidency what really happened?
Post-Hollande, Trierweiler is carving a new niche for herself. Though no one will be buying the book for that many pages are devoted to her charitable efforts and humanitarian causes.
Trierweiler writes that Hollande has proposed marriage three times since their life together imploded, though her explosive book has surely extinguished what little amour he has left.
According to Le Figaro the English language rights to Merci Pour Ce Moment have just been snapped up by the New York publisher Regan Arts. How long before a Hollywood studio leaps on the bandwagon?