With one bound, our hero was free – at least according to close associates of François Hollande, who have reportedly been astonished to find that a tougher, more confident leader has emerged from the personal and political crisis created by the global exposure of his affair with an actress.
Visitors to the Elysée Palace have found Mr Hollande to be “calm”, “happy”, even “liberated”, despite continuing revelations on his unexpectedly complicated private life.
“He is managing this business as if it was a political problem, not a romantic problem,” a friend of the President told Le Parisien. Other sources say that the crisis has revealed the true Hollande – not the “Flanby” (caramel custard) of his nickname but a tough, cold and driven man.
It emerged yesterday that Mr Hollande visited his partner, Valérie Trierweiler, in hospital in Paris on Thursday – the first time he had seen her since she was taken ill after his affair with actress Julie Gayet was revealed a week ago. Ms Trierweiler had complained to friends that she was “very hurt” at his failure to visit her. Sources in the Elysée Palace said the president was obeying medical advice and had sent her flowers, chocolates and text messages.
President Hollande’s surprising “calm” comes partly, insiders say, from a sense of having triumphed against all the odds at his press conference last Tuesday. For the rest of the world, the President’s refusal to comment on the crisis in his private life was a cause for astonishment and mockery. Yet the consensus of the French media and political classes is that the two-hour performance by Mr Hollande was a “tour de force”.
His proposals to move to a more market-oriented economic policy, and to reduce the payroll tax burden on French industry, have been widely praised. Some centrist politicians have tentatively offered their support – opening up the possibility of a re-alignment of the right-left divisions of French politics.
A question arises, however. If Mr Hollande fees liberated by the crisis, what exactly does he feel liberated from? His own soft image? A long-strained relationship with Ms Trierweiler? Or two years of lies in his private life?
Closer magazine, which exposed the affair with Ms Gayet last week, has produced new revelations. The magazine said that the relationship had started two years ago – before Mr Hollande was elected President.
The magazine said that the actress had first been introduced to Mr Hollande by his former partner Ségolène Royal in 2011. Closer traced back their romance at least a year. It also asserted – without giving evidence – that their relationship was already “intimate” during the presidential campaign in 2012.
The newspaper Le Figaro said that it had evidence that the affair had lasted “at least 18 months”. The newspaper suggested that Ms Gayet might even emerge rapidly as the new “First Lady”.
Ms Gayet, breaking her silence, formally denied on Friday that she was pregnant. An unsourced rumour of her pregnancy appeared briefly on a French blog earlier this week.