Hollande threatens to sue over affair report
PARIS — French President François Hollande threatened legal action yesterday after a magazine reported he was having a secret affair with an actress, the latest breach in the French media’s practice of turning a blind eye to presidential love affairs.
Celebrity magazine Closer published images yesterday showing a bodyguard and a helmeted man it said was Hollande visiting the apartment of Julie Gayet, a French actress who previously appeared in a clip for his 2012 presidential campaign.
The weekly French tabloid, criticized in 2012 for publishing topless pictures of Kate Middleton, Britain’s Duchess of Cambridge, printed seven pages of photos of comings and goings outside a Paris apartment block to support its allegation.
“François Hollande greatly deplores the invasion of his privacy, to which he has a right as any other citizen does. He is studying what action, including legal action, to take following this publication,” a source in Hollande’s office said. The source did not directly deny the story.
The news swept across Twitter on Thursday night as news of the allegations surfaced. In a statement late yesterday, Closer said that at the request of Gayet’s lawyer it would remove all reference to the alleged relationship from its website, but there was no mention of plans to pull the publication from newsstands.
While the French have long been indulgent of their leaders’ infidelities, the pictures were an unwelcome distraction for Hollande as he battles to revive the eurozone’s second largest economy and faces record low approval ratings in opinion polls.
French media faces strict privacy laws, as well as a long-held tradition of ignoring the private lives of public figures. Former president François Mitterrand had a daughter with his lover that the French media knew about but never revealed, until the president himself appeared publicly with his daughter coming out of a restaurant.
But the publication marked the latest incursion into the once-sacred private lives of French politicians. The tradition of keeping private lives private has been chipped away since Hollande’s predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy divorced his wife Cecilia, who was having an affair, and remarried model and singer Carla Bruni.
According to Closer, movie actress Gayet, 41, was seen arriving at an apartment block in Paris’s upmarket eighth arrondissement late at night. The pictures then show the arrival of a man resembling Hollande’s bodyguard. A second man — which Closer said was Hollande — then arrives on the back of a scooter. He is unidentifiable because he is wearing a black helmet.
Subsequent photos taken in the morning show the first man arriving with what Closer said was a bag of croissants, then the second man in a helmet emerging and jumping on the back of a scooter.
The woman resembling Gayet, who has acted in French films including the 2013 comedy Quai d’Orsay in which she plays a vampish diplomatic adviser in the Foreign Ministry, then comes out and heads down the street.
Gayet, a Socialist party supporter, openly backed Hollande during the 2012 presidential race, describing him in one filmed interview as “fantastic” and “really ready to listen.”
Hollande, who was dubbed “Monsieur Normal” by French media during his election campaign, has never married. He had four children with politician Segolene Royal, and has been living in recent years with his partner, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, considered France’s first lady.
There was no comment from Gayet, a mother-of-two, or her lawyers yesterday. She filed a complaint for breach of privacy last March after rumours of an affair with Hollande became public.
The magazine, known for suggestive photos and gossip, says the alleged affair raises questions about the president’s security, if he is sneaking out with a single bodyguard and traveling exposed on the back of a motorcycle.
Allies and foes of Hollande defended his right to privacy yesterday.
“He’s a normal president, a normal person. He’s a president who fell in love... we’ve really got to get less dramatic over these pictures,” magazine editor Laurence Pieau told Europe-1 radio.
“For me this magazine is disgraceful, I have no interest in this,” said a 30-year-old Parisian communications sector worker named Emmanuelle. “It’s his private life. There are more important issues than this,” she said, reflecting the general lack of interest among passers-by in central Paris.
Marine Le Pen of the anti-immigrant National Front, normally a Hollande critic, was also uninterested.
“As far as the president is concerned, as long as not a cent of public money was used... I believe that everybody has the right to the respect of their privacy,” she told i-Tele TV.
Hollande, 59, came to power in 2012 and according to polls is the most unpopular president in France’s modern history due to his failure to tackle unemployment stuck at around 11 percent and a widespread sense that he lacks authority. The article overshadowed news of a surprise rebound in the French economy in late 2013, with the Bank of France estimating last-quarter growth at 0.5 percent and November industrial output beating analysts’ forecasts.
Herald with AP, Reuters