France’s 2017 presidential race has brought a level of scrutiny into the private lives of its political elite in a way that was perhaps unimaginable decades ago.
Indeed, it was the private life of François Fillon – specifically allegations he gave his wife and children state salaries for jobs they didn’t do – which torpedoed his campaign.
The ensuing controversy broke with decades of pseudo-tradition in which the private lives of French politicians, their families and close friends were respected and kept out of the public sphere.
The prevailing sentiment for many in France was that politicians’ private lives were not an extension of their government office. That having an extramarital affair, for instance, was not tantamount to a betrayal of the state.
Former Presidents François Mitterrand, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Georges Pompidou and Jacques Chirac all had intriguing private lives while in office. Their affairs were no secret but neither were they openly scrutinised.
This changed, however, with Nicolas Sarkozy, who entered the Elysée presidential palace having lived through a very public and tumultuous relationship with his second wife, Cécilia Attias.
Sarkozy would then marry singer and model Carla Bruni in 2008 but rumours two years later that the pair were both having affairs swept through France and across the internet. In the age of social media, the rumours became global gossip.
Current President François Hollande, too, has had his share of interest in his private life. A retrospective book published by his ex-partner and journalist Valerie Trierweiler in 2014 heavily disparaged his character. It was one of the top selling books in France that year.
Retrospectives on the lives of the country’s leaders were how many learned of the extent of their Presidents’ private lives.
The relationship between Mitterrand and his mistress Anne Pingeot, for instance, was laid bare only as recently as last year after she published a book containing his love letters. It revealed more than 1,000 letters he sent her over the course of the couple’s 30-year romance.
Now, as French voters prepare to cast their deciding ballots on May 7, centrist Emmanuel Macron’s relationship with wife Brigitte Trogneux is captivating popular imagination. It may even factor in how the French decide who to vote for.
Twenty-four years his senior, Trogneux is said to be one of Macron’s closest advisors. She has taken an active role in shaping his campaign, advising him on speeches and even helping set his agenda.
In his first round election victory speech, Macron publicly thanked his wife: “always by my side, without whom I wouldn’t be who I am.” She is a woman upon whom he has relied since the age of 15.
Their relationship, compared to previous ‘candidate couples’, suggests a symbiosis which could elevate the position of France’s Première Femme to the sort of level seen in the White House in the United States.
The couple is media savvy and invites photographers to accompany them on holidays or outings, with the ultimate aim of making them approachable, glamourous even, to voters.
La photo WTF du jour d'Emmanuel Macron en vacances dans
ParisMatch</a> <a href="https://t.co/n8CgXHTCon">pic.twitter.com/n8CgXHTCon</a></p>— Thomas Joubert (tomjoubert) August 11, 2016
The couple’s public profile is in stark contrast to that of Macron’s challenger Marine Le Pen and her partner.
As well as being Macron’s ideological opposite, Le Pen has not projected her private life into the public gallery.
Distinctly private and known for having ousted her father from the Front National in 2011, Le Pen has since woven her party’s ideology tightly around her image and candidacy.
But that has not stopped elements of the French media from delving into her relationship and particularly, speculating what her partner Louis Aliot might do if Le Pen wins the presidency.
A story published online this week by Gala magazine, a celebrity gossip publication, said Aliot would prefer fishing and boating with his friends in the south of France than being the country’s First Monsieur.
The current Front National Vice-President, Aliot has been with the political party for 30 years. He has a doctorate in Law and managed the election campaign of Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2001.
Interest in Aliot has also made its way to the United Kingdom, where, like in the United States, the private lives of politicians, what they wear and who they are seen with, often make the news.
The Telegraph published a story about Aliot and Le Pen’s relationship earlier this week, which uncovered a rare romantic selfie of the couple posted to Twitter in 2014.
En direct de Perpignan, dédicace à closer !!! 😃 pic.twitter.com/F8y9pOhthU— Marine Le Pen (@MLP_officiel) May 30, 2014
The image, the newspaper reported however, was a political message. Rumours had circulated at the time their relationship was coming undone. The post served to quash any speculation.