Grace Dent: Valérie Trierweiler and what my heartbreak hotel would look like

A broken heart really does feel like a physical thing. Perhaps I should open a clinic to help people who’ve experienced it
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As Valérie Trierweiler, France’s ‘First Girlfriend’, took herself off to hospital with “the blues” in the midst of a media furore over her partner François Hollande’s alleged romance with the actress Julie Gayet, it’s of some comfort to us Brits that the French really aren’t so blasé and evolved about infidelity after all. Not, I must stress, that we know this was infidelity.

The photographs that French magazine Closer harvested are reportedly of the 59-year-old President – clad in the well-established mid-life crisis uniform of biker leathers and a crash helmet – arriving at a flat where situated was a beautiful actress 18-years his junior who I’ll wager wouldn’t give him the time of day if he was a window-cleaner. The pair allegedly then stayed over in the flat that night and in the morning had delicious croissants delivered by one of the President’s flunkies.

But let’s not jump to conclusions. Perhaps Julie and François were up all night ruminating over deep French socio-political enigmas such as the rising popularity of anti-Semitic jokester Dieudonné, or France’s dubious involvement in uranium mining in Niger. Maybe François was helping Julie “run lines for a new movie”, which is the go-to excuse if one is ever caught somewhere dubious with an actor/actress one shouldn’t be.

Regardless, Trierweiler appears to err on the side of “cynic” in this matter and was hospitalised at the weekend with heartbreak, commonly known in a case like this as “stress and exhaustion”.

We British are often fed the idea of France as a mythical land where no one eats snacks, the women never grow larger than a size 12, everyone ages gracefully despite smoking Gauloise and drinking vin rouge, eating dinner takes three hours thanks to harmonious family chat, and best – yes best, of all – everyone is shagging someone they really shouldn’t be in an elegant, discreet manner and no one gets hurt.

Clearly, the last part is codswallop, because segments of France do care that François Hollande may no longer be faithful to Valérie Trierweiler and, in fact, the media is chuntering loudly about why this affair hasn’t been confessed to and why taxpayers should fund Valérie’s office within the Élysée Palace if she’s not First Girlfriend after all. The French, in fact, have behaved about high-level adultery exactly as the British would, with a mass clutching of pearls, then a cacophony of soundbites from whoever the French version of the UK’s TaxPayers’ Alliance are: those people who pop up knowing the exact cost of everything yet the value of nothing at all.

So, with the French and the British increasingly aligned in affairs of the heart, it will be interesting to watch Valérie’s next move. In Britain, among the comfortably-off classes, when one partner has behaved or regularly behaves like a giant sh*t, there is a tendency to put up, to shut up, to think of what one might lose – status and financial security-wise in the eventuality of a split – and to give them another chance. Then a final chance. Then another chance after that.

Social media reverberates with brazen serial adulterers who spend all Christmas being loudly #familyfirst and #mulledwinewithmymrs or #mylovelyhubby and January back to their old “snuffle after anything with a pulse” tricks. Social media rocks with cuckolded partners clinging on bravely, territorially pissing around Twitter timelines while their other half “works late”.

If Valérie Trierweiler decides that – when all things are considered – being First Girlfriend with an office and five staff inside one of France’s most prestigious houses is a better deal than being a single, dumped, flat-hunter, she won’t be the first to make a similar warped bargain.


François Hollande with partner Valérie Trierweiler; Julie Gayet

What interests me most about this whole fandango is Valérie’s hospital admission for the heartbreak. Love is such an intense, mentally and physically jarring emotion that I’ve often thought it’s only a matter of time before Bupa opens wards especially to deal with the weeks that follow being badly, abruptly dumped or betrayed. The searing chest pain, the lack of appetite, the delusional thoughts, sleep deprivation, the overriding feeling that life is spent, it has no meaning, that the light of love in one’s heart is gone and will never ever re-ignite.

If I opened a heartbreak clinic, the first days post-admission would see patients encouraged to lie in a foetal position howling over albums like Blue by Joni Mitchell or Steve McQueen by Prefab Sprout, moving on to – in stage two – angry pop ditties like “We Are Never Getting Back Together” by Taylor Swift.

My heartbreak clinic would favour talking therapy, access to a good lawyer and a digital detox specialist to remove evidence of the arsehole ex and their new life from all your accounts. The staff would be statuesque, can-do, Carry On-style matrons who would become quite hardline in – stage three – forcing you to wash, dress and consume something other than Bell’s whisky and Kit-Kats. I’d be happy to take Valérie as my first patient.

Love is a losing game, Amy Winehouse said, but I believe in big second-half comebacks.

Read more from Grace Dent here: The Golden Globes showed women can do more than just light up the red carpet