Reported on: May 16, 2012 09:39 AM
Reported in: International
New York Times Online
Paris, May 16 (UNB) - Valérie Trierweiler faces an uncommon predicament. Valérie Trierweiler and France’s new president, François Hollande, are the first unwed couple to occupy the Élysée Palace.
Twice married and twice divorced, she covered French politics as a journalist for more than 20 years with no inkling that she would one day become France’s first lady, certainly not when she fell for François Hollande, a jovial, unglamorous leftist politician who hardly seemed like presidential material.
“I almost want to laugh when I think of it,” Ms. Trierweiler said in a telephone interview with New York Times .
But Mr. Hollande was elected on May 6 and was sworn in on Tuesday, and now Ms. Trierweiler — whom he calls “the love of my life” — is concerned with preserving her independence while supporting her partner.
“In France, a first lady has no status, and therefore she isn’t supposed to do anything else,” Ms. Trierweiler said. “My perception of life is not to ask François Hollande, who isn’t the father of my children, to support me financially.”
Last week she told the newspaper Le Figaro that she would have to “think” about her future role. Elle magazine and other media outlets have quoted her as saying she would continue to work as a journalist.
Mr. Hollande and Ms. Trierweiler are the first unmarried couple to occupy the presidential Élysée Palace together, following close on the heels of the new president of Germany, Joachim Gauck, whose live-in companion is also a journalist. That these arrangements were no bar to office is a sign of how European attitudes about families have changed.
But they do raise some concerns about protocol — how to travel together to places like Saudi Arabia, for instance, where unmarried cohabitation is not accepted. In both France and Germany, some have suggested that the presidential couples ought to marry now, but in neither case does that seem likely to happen.
Ms. Trierweiler “is scared of being the wife of a president and is looking for models,” said Laurent Binet, who followed the couple closely during the election campaign for a book he is writing. “She sees herself as an active woman.”
Born in 1965 to a disabled father who lost a leg in a mine explosion in 1944 and a mother who worked as a cashier at an ice rink, Ms. Trierweiler grew up modestly with five siblings in a housing project in Angers, in western France. She studied political science at the Sorbonne and then took a job as a reporter on a weekly review, Profession Politique, where she was known for hard work; she later moved to the well-known magazine Paris Match.
“Valérie is a very interesting mix of strength, pride and fragility,” said Philippe Labro, vice president of the TV channel Direct 8. “She cares for her own identity and loves her job.”
Mr. Labro hired Ms. Trierweiler for the channel in 2005, shortly after she and Mr. Hollande became involved. “I didn’t know at all that Ms. Trierweiler was with Mr. Hollande when I hired her,” Mr. Labro said. Once he knew, he said, “we agreed with the director of the channel that it wouldn’t be that which would prevent her from working.” Mr. Hollande made the relationship publicly known in 2010.
Ms. Trierweiler stopped covering politics for Paris Match in 2005 but continued her political programs on Direct 8, something that is not widely regarded in France as posing a potential conflict of interest.
“We need rules, they exist, but hypocrisy reigns,” she told Le Journal du Dimanche in 2010. “All journalists have opinions, they all vote, they all have sympathy, friendships. But they’re not asked to justify them. We believe in their integrity, we trust them and we’re right to do so.”
Sharp-featured, elegant and telegenic, Ms. Trierweiler began to attract more attention over the last year, as she was seen applauding and kissing Mr. Hollande at campaign meetings — not to mention her occasionally caustic comments on Twitter.
When Paris Match put her picture on its cover in March, Ms. Trierweiler wrote on Twitter: “What a shock to discover myself on the cover page of my own magazine,” and added, “Bravo to Paris Match for its sexism.”
She seemed happy, if a bit shocked, on the stage last Sunday in the town of Tulle when her partner delivered his victory speech.