PARIS (AFP) - Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, as French President Francois Hollande has learned since a memoir published by his spurned girlfriend left France both aghast and greedy for details about his private life.
But in a bizarre twist, one of the strongest voices in his defence has come from another ex – Ecology Minister Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children and his partner of 25 years.
Hollande left Royal, a former Socialist presidential candidate herself, for Valerie Trierweiler, but that hasn’t kept her from standing with him against Trierweiler, who wrote “Thank You for the Moment", published last week.
Both Trierweiler and Hollande have come off badly in public opinion after the explosive release of the memoir, which details how she overdosed on sleeping pills after news of Hollande’s affair with a much younger actress emerged in January. Trierweiler also paints the left-leaning leader as power-hungry, cold and secretly contemptuous of the poor, calling them “toothless”.
But Royal, appearing on a pre-scheduled television show on the morning of the book’s release, lashed out after a question about Hollande’s alleged disdain for the have-nots.
“It’s rubbish, it’s the exact opposite of the political commitment of a great leader of the left,” she said. “Do you think it’s true?” Royal shot back to the interviewer. “Can you think it is true about a politician you have known for years...?”
“One must judge politicians by their acts,” she said.
That spirited defence made waves, with one analyst likening it to a comic act. “We are all watching a vaudeville where political rivalries and affairs of the heart are intertwined,” said Jerome Fourquet from the Ifop opinion and market research agency.
Pascal Perrineau from the Institute of Political Studies in Paris said Royal’s defence showed how isolated Hollande – who is battling record unpopularity amid a peak in unemployment and a flatlining economy – has become.
“The majority of his political family do not have confidence in him,” he said, adding that Royal’s appointment as a minister revealed the “incestuous nature” of French politics.
“Neither in Germany, nor in Britain nor Spain have we witnessed such a thing with family dimensions,” said Perrineau.
Trierweiler’s book, released on Thursday, shot to the top of Amazon France’s bestseller list and sold out at bookstores nationwide.
Meanwhile, the journalist, 49, decamped to Madagascar as the Parisian chattering classes went to town blasting the book as a vulgar exposure of a politician’s private life – while buying it by the thousands.
Speaking at a Nato summit in Wales later, Hollande also came to his own defence, saying: “I will never accept that one calls into question what has been my life’s commitment,” and urging that “the office of the president be respected”.
Royal and Trierweiler have made no secret of their jealousy and antipathy. Trierweiler was also unpopular with the public and earned the unflattering moniker of “Rottweiler”.
She and Hollande kicked off their relationship in 2005 as a secret liaison, while he was still with Royal. She claims in the book that things between them were “electric” initially, but that he became increasingly “de-humanised” as he got closer to the top job.
In June 2012, Trierweiler created shockwaves with a jaw-dropping tweet in which she backed a Socialist dissident running against Royal in a key legislative election. And in her book, she recounts an incident where Royal unexpectedly turned up at a restaurant, approached herself and Hollande, and turned nasty.
“She is cold and tells us she hopes she is not disturbing us. Francois seems completely unable to speak, so I answer: ‘We were talking about the Tour de France’. Segolene responds by saying ‘stop bullshitting me’!”