Stop Making a Fool Outta Me, Valérie: Ségolène Royal’s Public Vindication

Valérie Trierweiler. Photo: Sylvain de Gelder in the US

I get it.  Your boyfriend’s ex looms over your relationship like the eerie ghost of happy-days-past, and though you’re arguably prettier than she, you’re also bound to be a bit insecure. She doesn’t help things with her “I’m-super-happy-now-and-more-successful-than-ever-without-you” Facebook posts, photos, and Tweets that you’re just sure get under his skin. Sure, he’s happy with you now, but once upon a time he was super happy with her

I’m sorry—am I talking about myself or Valérie Trierweiler?!

I think the two most amusing recurring descriptions of France’s new “first girlfriend” are that she resembles Lauren Bacall and writes for the “glossy” magazine Paris Match. That adjective—“glossy”—I find highly amusing.  I would add in any profile of Trierweiler that she has an odd nose with nostrils that seem to contort her otherwise lovely face into a snarl when she smiles.

Trierweiler is the twice-divorced journalist whose claim to fame is arguably having successfully home-wrecked a partnership between two French political titans: François Hollande and Ségolène Royal. By many accounts she had become involved with Hollande in 2005 while still married to her second husband, Denis Trierweiler—the father of her three children.

In those days, Hollande’s chances of ever becoming President were slim at best. His partner of 27 years, Madame Royal, was two years away from challenging right-wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy to serve as Jacques Chirac’s successor, and there was a whole slew of socialist party candidates ready to rise if she should fail. Leaving Royal, the mother of his four children, after her defeat in the 2007 election was adding insult to injury. An insult very much alive and well, even five years later.

If the French found Carla Bruni-Sarkozy ridiculous, it was largely due to the highly publicized phenomenon that was her relationship with sitting President Nicolas Sarkozy. Her history of (often nude) modeling and home-wrecking punctuated Sarkozy’s proclamation to the Press: “Carla and I [are] serious.” Serious?!  With a tabloid figure?!  The American-style celebrity power couple that the President and First Lady embodied rubbed many the wrong way, rendering the romance a nationwide smirk-inducing punch line.

Yet following Trierweiler’s “Twittergate” scandal of June 2012—in which she publicly endorsed Ségolène Royal’s renegade socialist party challenger in a parliamentary election race—the relative non-antics of Bruni-Sarkozy are arguably missed.  Even leftist publication La Libération treated the incident, headlining their next-day issue “The First Gaffe of France.”  Trierweiler didn’t formally apologize for four months. If François Hollande promised to be a “normal” president, Trierweiler has ensured that any potential charges of her boyfriend being Mr. Banal seem implausible, laughable fantasies.

Pundits everywhere have been searching for a historical figure suited for a just comparison.  France-Amérique called her the new Madame de Maintenon after the 16th century secret consort of Louis XV—though her relative unimportance in the story of France seems an inadequate reference. Trierweiler’s spoiled, petulant behavior suggests complacency worthy of Marie-Antoinette scale, but then again there are shades of Anne Boleyn and Wallis Simpson with their respective abilities to bring down two different English (British, in Simpson’s case) governments.

What is disturbing (or fascinating, if you ask me) about Trierweiler is not that she makes a show of her personal relationship (demanding that Hollande kiss her “on the mouth” in front of everyone on election night) or her faux pas vis-à-vis proper social network etiquette.  Instead, what is remarkable about Trierweiler is that she seems to want it all, and—indeed—seems to be enjoying relative success.

She may have been chided by Hollande and his staff following the twitter snafu, but nothing seems to have come of recent raised eyebrows, notably over her controversial decision to stay active in journalism while serving as première dame.  Now a book reviewer for her “glossy” publication, Trierweiler recently drew criticism for comparing herself to Eleanor Roosevelt in a column and for sending a thank-you to a book publisher on Élysée stationary.

“The case for making an honest woman of France’s first lady is cloudy at best,” proclaimed an October 26 article in The Telegraph.  Nicknames such as “Valérie Rottweiler” and “First Concubine” do little to improve her image.  Indeed, a shrewd look at recent profiles reveals a slew of revelatory headlines: “Is She France’s Least Popular First Lady Ever?” “Lawyer Tells First Lady You Can Be ‘Dignified With…Cellulite,” “The Bedroom Farce Paralyzing France,”—and those are just from the Anglophone press.  Even former first ladies Bernadette Chirac and Bruni-Sarkozy herself have commented on their successor’s public image, with the latter recommending that the time has come for Valérie to become “a legitimate wife.”

So while Hollande struggles with plummeting popularity and financial numbers that arguably don’t add up, at least he can content himself with the knowledge that someone in France is more unpopular than he.  Maybe his girlfriend’s antics really are blessings in disguise. Then again, maybe they are exactly what they seem: amusing, yet immature, manifestations of a kind of cosmic kismet. Headlines to give Ségolène something to smile about.


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