Valerie Trierweiler's hospital stay lets Hollande play for time

Extended hospital visit allows dithering President to put off decision about his choice of First Lady

Column LAST UPDATED AT 08:35 ON Tue 14 Jan 2014
Columnist

WHAT'S going on in France's First Menage? Within hours of Valerie Trierweiler learning that her partner, Francois Hollande, had been having an affair with an actress 18 years his junior, Trierweiler went into hospital with a gros coup de blues - a bad case of depression.

The suggestion was that the President's live-in girlfriend and soi-disant First Lady of France needed a weekend in bed to get over the shock and she'd be out on Monday. Instead, it was reported yesterday afternoon that she was not coming out yet - indeed, her stay in hospital would be "for an indeterminate time", until doctors decide she has recovered.

No one would wish to question Trierweiler's pain at discovering Hollande's secret affair with Julie Gayat - he reportedly confessed to it just hours before Closer magazine hit the news kiosks on Friday - but she's never struck the French public as a girl who needs the smelling salts passing her way. She's a tough cookie who played her part in Hollande's decision to leave Segolene Royale, the mother of his four children.

No one does hypochondria better than the French, of course, but even so, a limitless spell in hospital seems a little over the top.

Looking for answers in the political columns of Le Monde or Le Figaro leads you up a cobbled cul-de-sac: this is not even a scandal as far as the French establishment is concerned - or, at least, if there is a scandal it's that Closer had the temerity to breach the President's right to privacy. No one is asking the questions they'd ask in Britain if this were, say, the Cameron household in crisis: If his wife/girlfriend cannot trust him, why should we, the public? Doesn't he have a country to lead?

At least, in the age of online journalism, we have the French public to help us. Among the many comments at the foot of yesterday's report on Le Monde's website about Trierweiler's extended stay in hospital are a handful that seem to have the measure of the First Couple.

If they're right, it's all about this afternoon's presidential press conference (3.30pm UK time) at the Elysee Palace - an event originally intended to deal with Hollande's New Year policies to tackle unemployment and the French recession, but now destined to be overshadowed by the fate of the First Lady.

As one of the commenters on Le Monde's report, Harry Zotto, puts it: "It will be much more simple for Francois Hollande to say: 'Because Valerie has been hospitalised, you will understand that I cannot talk about that'. If she had left hospital, he would have to reach a decision. As always, he is playing for time."

Another commenter, Emilio Alba, writes: "It could have been predicted: you don't reject a woman who has been confined to bed. At least as long as she is in hospital it's the status quo. The Gayet woman will have to wait."

In short, Zotto and Alba are among the many who see this as just another example of a hopeless president's dithering and indecision. He needs to make up his mind who his 'First Lady' is and get on with it. If that means throwing Valerie Trierweiler out of the Elysee Palace, so be it.

Assuming Valerie wasn't dragged off to hospital in a straitjacket, why would she agree to keep her head low in hospital until the press conference has passed? Because she, too, needs time to consider her position.

According to reports from friends she was genuinely shocked by the news of the affair. As a result, she has been publicly humiliated while those who have long questioned her status at the Elysee Palace - the retinue of staff, the limos and private jets at her disposal, the glamorous trips abroad on Hollande's arm - have a field day at her expense.

When rumours swirled around the previous presidency in 2010, there was no such sense of humiliation because both parties were said to be having affairs - Carla Bruni with a young musician and Nicolas Sarkozy with one of his cabinet ministers. Trierweiler, it seems, had no such face-saving, tit-for-tat arrangement.

Yesterday, Le Parisien reported a "friend" of Trierweiler's saying she would be prepared to forgive Hollande if he gave up the affair – but does the President want to be forgiven? Laurence Piau, editor of Closer, claims he loves the actress and sees their future together. 

Oddly, there is very little comment in Paris on whether Julie Gayet would want to put her clandestine relationship with Hollande on a more permanent basis. Power may be an aphrodisiac, but is it that much of an aphrodisiac?

If it does come to Trierweiler leaving Hollande, and Gayet measuring up for new curtains in the Elysee boudoir, then at least there's one thing the actress can bank on - the deeply unpopular Hollande is a dead cert one-term-only president. She'll be out of there in 2017. ·