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.

Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
Sport
Jose Mourinho, Chelsea players celebrate Demba Ba's goal and Gus Poyet
sportLive coverage of today's final game between Chelsea and Sunderland
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Brand said he
people
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Sport
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives in the rain during the qualifying session of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai
sport
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
The North Korean TV advert for Taedonggang beer, that became a YouTube hit
food + drinkAnd what did it take to set up a taste test back in Wiltshire?
Arts & Entertainment
filmLife for Leslie Mann's can be challenging sometimes
Voices
For music lovers: John Cusack with his vinyl collection in 'High Fidelity'
voices...but don't forget rest of the year
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit