Wealthy Frenchman

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Loving, Fighting, Sulking, Dancing, Betraying



The French can be very, well, French when it comes to the personal lives of their leaders.

They take affairs, illegitimate children and tumultuous marriages in stride.

But they suddenly turn traditional when it comes to the role of the first lady. They do not like the idea of Nicolas Sarkozy entertaining world leaders alone at the Élysée Palace. It is not comme il faut.

Maybe that’s why this country is so mesmerized with the question of whether the beautiful Cécilia Sarkozy, a former Schiaparelli model who was for years her husband’s influential political adviser, is going to serve as the chatelaine of the Élysée, or run off again with a lover.

No one seems sure if she will bolt, leaving the entertaining duties to Sarko’s mother, an elegant lawyer, or agree to play a limited role at the palace.

“We have a hard time imagining an intermittent first lady at the Élysée,” sniffed Le Temps, a daily newspaper, online.

Cécilia was missing in action during the final weeks of her husband’s campaign. “I don’t see myself as first lady,” the 49-year-old said. “That bores me.”

Bound by strict privacy laws, and cozy with the elite ruling class, the French press shies away from printing the skinny on relationships, even though the skinny French public loves gossiping on the subject.

Trying to fathom what is going on with power couples here is like watching a French movie — scenes brimming with emotion and ambiguity.

Cécilia left Sarko for several months in 2005, moving to America to live with a French events organizer — reportedly a response to her husband’s affair with a French journalist.

When Paris Match published pictures of Cécilia with her lover in New York, Sarko became furious with his good friend, Arnaud Lagardère, the magazine’s owner. Soon, the editor was fired.

Mr. Lagardère stepped in again to kill a story in another publication he owns, Le Journal du Dimanche. On Sunday, the paper was going to reveal that Cécilia did not bother to vote.

On the night Sarko won the presidency, Parisians were watching Cécilia’s every move. She was not there when he won or when he made his acceptance speech, and some of her friends were saying that the marriage was over.

But her two pretty blonde daughters from a previous marriage apparently prevailed on her to show up later that night at a victory rally. She came dressed down in a gray sweater and white slacks, in what one friend said had originally been her “escape outfit,” and looked distracted as her husband spoke, plucking at her sweater.

At the post-rally party, Paris Match — now following the Sarko script — was given an exclusive on their happy reunion. They were in a hotel suite, the magazine said, behaving “like lovers.”

“And the new president, regaining for an instant the taste of rhythm that invaded him in his youth, took a step in dance,” the story said. “In front of all their friends reunited, he dances for a single person: Cécilia.”

When Paris isn’t fixated on Cécilia and Sarko, it’s buzzing about the town’s other power couple.

As Ségolène Royal tries to build on her strong showing to become the Socialist candidate for president in 2012, her relationship with the father of her four children and the head of her party, François Hollande, grows more byzantine.

She brazenly bounded past Mr. Hollande — who wanted to run himself — and now she wants to eclipse him totally. This competition — the opposite of Billary — certainly did not help her candidacy. “Every morning I would open the newspapers and ask myself which Socialist was going to attack me over what I was saying,” she told a party conference the other day.

Their relationship is the subject of a new book, “La Femme Fatale,” by two respected political reporters from Le Monde. The couple is suing to have some passages cut.

“Disappointed in her private life, she chose to go into battle without worrying anymore about François Hollande, but also with the assertion that she was more popular than him, and he hadn’t been able to renovate the Socialist Party despite hopes of party activists and elected officials,” Raphaëlle Bacqué, a co-author, told a journalist, noting that the fact that Sego and Mr. Hollande were at each other’s throats, while keeping their status a mystery, had “serious political consequences. They should have been unbeatable. ... him at the head of the party, her a candidate. But instead we saw two teams in endless competition.”

The book quotes an interview in which Mr. Hollande was asked where he would live if Sego won. “At my house!” he replied.


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