Chirac gets boost as foster daughter tells of 'Papy Jacques'

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The Independent Online

At a time when his image and reputation at home and abroad are at their lowest ebb, Anh Dao Traxel's book will paint a rather different, and mostly unknown, picture of the French President and his wife

Mme Traxel, now 47 and married to a French police lieutenant, was a 21-year-old "boat person" without friends or a word of French when she arrived with other refugees at Charles de Gaulle airport in July 1979.

In an interview published yesterday, she recalled how she was approached by a "grand monsieur" (tall man). "He said: 'Don't cry any more, my dear. From now on, you will live with us.'"

The tall man turned out to be the Mayor of Paris, later to become the President of the Republic.

Anh Dao lived with Jacques and Bernadette Chirac, and their two daughters, in the mayoral apartment at Paris Town Hall, for two years. Mme Chirac began to teach her French and buy her new clothes. M. Chirac "packed my satchel on the evening before my first French class", she recalled in an interview with the daily newspaper Le Parisien.

The Vietnamese woman was treated at the town hall, she says, like one of the Chirac daughters. She still calls the President "father" and her three children - all named after members of the Chirac family - call him "Papy Jacques" or Grandad Jacques.

"In the evenings the whole family would gather around the table and Jacques Chirac would ask us to tell about our day ... He loved to tell stories and make us laugh.

"Before we went to sleep, [he] would come and tenderly kiss his three daughters, even though we were grown up."

The Chiracs sought no publicity for their generosity to Anh Dao at the time. Although her story has been recounted briefly in biographies of Chirac, her book, to be published in February, will be the first full account of Mme Traxel's life, from boat person to Parisienne mother of three.

There may be some suspicion that story is being pushed now as part of a campaign to rebuild the President's domestic popularity. However, Le Parisien said that its interview with M. Chirac's "third" daughter came from a chance encounter. Mme Traxel told the newspaper that she had decided to write the book some time ago.

"I always wanted to be discreet because I believed that my story was the business of myself and the Chirac family alone," she said.

"But finally I felt the need to tell my story and, through this book, express my gratitude to Monsieur. et Madame Chirac, without whom I would not be here."

Ahn Dao was urged by her family to flee Vietnam after her father, a teacher, was arrested and put in a "re-education" camp. After spending weeks on a boat with other refugees, she was placed in a camp and then flown to Paris with a group of 200 Vietnamese who had been offered asylum in France.

When Jacques Chirac became Prime Minister in 1986, he was able to arrange for her entire family, including seven brothers and sisters to leave Vietnam. She had by that time been given a job checking M. Chirac's mail in the town hall. Five of her siblings were also taken on to the city payroll.