French get peek at all the presidents' women

The French taboo on media coverage of the sex lives of politicians lay shattered into a hundred fascinating pieces yesterday. The magazine Marianne, irritated by the priggish French coverage of Bill Clinton's travails, tore open the lace curtains on 40 years of hidden affairs of state. John Lichfield reports.

If France were the United States, it would have lost its last three presidents - Mitterrand, Giscard and Pompidou - to sex scandals. Even the present incumbent, Jacques Chirac, would have had some Clinton-like explaining to do about his pre-presidential, private life.

According to the news magazine Marianne - a serious, but deliberately unconventional publication, not a scandal sheet, President Chirac's extra- marital conquests have included the Italian actress, Claudia Cardinale. Valery Giscard d'Estaing had an affair while president, with, among others, the actress Sylvia Kristel (who made her name in the erotic classic Emmanuelle). Francois Mitterrand's activities were too numerous to list in full but included an affair with the singer Dalida. Georges Pompidou had an illegitimate son.

The magazine says all these facts - and more - were common knowledge at the time but never written about openly in the French press. This was partly from fear of prosecution under French privacy laws (Marianne is deliberately courting this risk). But there is also a long-standing journalistic convention that it is "healthier" and more "adult" to ignore such things.

In France, much scorn has been poured on the American media for its pursuit of the last titillating detail of the Monica Lewinsky affair (although the French press has found it necessary to publish most of the details themselves).

Marianne says that, at heart, it agrees it is often healthier not to dwell on the private lives of public figures. It points out, however, that the traditional attitude of the French press frequently serves politicians better than the public. On several occasions, political-sexual affairs have become entangled with political or financial scandals which have been ignored because of the taboo on the exploration of private lives.

A classic example, the magazine says, is the career of the former foreign minister, Roland Dumas, whose role in kick-backs on state contracts is being investigated by two judges. As part of the investigation, Christine Deviers-Joncour, usually described in the press as an associate of Mr Dumas - actually his mistress - has been arrested on suspicion of receiving pounds 6m in illegal commissions.

Marianne says the silence of the French press has allowed politicians to parade their virtue and attachment to family values, while living energetically immoral private lives. Throughout French history, there are events that have to be explained, romantically or sexually. For instance, Marshall Petain was taken into the French government in 1939 because the mistress of the prime minister, Paul Reynaud, insisted that he should be. Equally, says Marianne, there are many events in contemporary public life which can only be explained by opening the bedroom door.

The magazine gives a brief six-page survey of the liaisons not-previously dangereuses which have enlivened the secret history of the Fifth Republic since 1958. President Charles de Gaulle was irreproachable (though possibly not during the war). At the instigation of his wife, anyone known to be an adulterer was excluded from his governments. (De Gaulle, personally, took a more relaxed view. Meeting an ambassador recalled from Moscow after an affair with a KGB stooge, the general simply said: "So, you've been in bed.")

Pompidou's activities were legendary but limited by ill-health while in the Elysee Palace. Giscard d'Estaing was rumoured to have many mistresses but this was probably exaggerated, Marianne says. He did, however, have a taste for young actresses who were approached by one of his officials and entertained at a country inn called Le Petit Coq aux Champ (the little cock in the fields). Mitterrand's long-standing affairs, and his illegitimate daughter, Maserine, WERE revealed toward the end of his life (to general indignation and fascination). But Marianne says that this was only a taste of the general atmosphere of "liberated morals", often linked with financial chicanery, which surrounded the Elysee under Mitterrand. Relative probity has been restored under Mr Chirac, but the magazine says that earlier in his career he was bugged by French security services during an affair with a Soviet air hostess.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map