Have you Heard the one about the President and the Actress?

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Following the allegations in gossip magazine “Closer”, François Hollande has some more explaining to do this week

French president François Hollande spent the weekend ensconced in his office at the Elysée Palace. According to one advisor, he was “working, re-reading dossiers, reflecting, taking notes…”

Tomorrow, the 14th of January, he is due to give a press conference before some 500 assembled journalists in which he will be going into detail on the wishes expressed for the future of France in a New Year’s Eve address. In the speech made to citizens of the republic on the 31st of December, he spoke intriguingly of ill-defined issues at the heart of renewed government policy, including a “responsibility pact” with companies. Many people – including deputies of his own Socialist party – are in the dark as to the promised clarification that will emerge in his address on the 14th of January, but as if the expectation wasn’t already heightened enough, he now has a personal situation the the general public are just dying to know all about.

Award-winning actress, producer, director, mother-of-two and committed socialist Julie Gayet

Award-winning actress, producer, director, mother-of-two and committed socialist Julie Gayet

The story as it was, broke on Friday with the allegation in Closer magazine that there was confirmation to the rumours that the French president was having an affair with Julie Gayet. 41-year-old Ms Gayet is a keen supporter of the Socialist Party but the allegation that her support for Hollande extended to more intimate activity had been circulating for some time before the “people” (an expression now current in French to mean gossip, essentially) magazine famous for photographing topless British royals with a zoom lens came out with this clanger.

Gayet’s lawyers forced Closer to remove the story from their website – an order that they were surely happy to comply with as it boosted sales in the printed version. François Hollande’s legal team also spoke of pending legal action against the publication of the story, without any denial of the veracity of the story being put forward. Hollande also spoke on Friday in a “personal capacity”, saying that he “deeply deplores the attacks on the respect for the private life to which he has a right, just like every other citizen.”

His female companion Valérie Trierweiler, meanwhile, has been hospitalised due to exhaustion and emotional upset caused by the report of the alleged relationship between President Hollande and Julie Gayet. Having been admitted on Friday in the immediate aftermath of the Closer article, 48-year-old Trierweiler is due to be released within a few days, after “taking a rest and undergoing some routine examinations”, according to the French First Lady’s advisors.

For how long more the mother-of-three remains the First Lady remains to be seen. One lady who knows plenty about

Getting colder? Valérie Trierweiler and François Hollande

Getting colder? Valérie Trierweiler and François Hollande

living with François Hollande is his ex-wife, former presidential candidate (and formerly an au-pair girl in Ireland) Ségolène Royal. Speaking on France 2 television over the weekend, she was discreet about the alleged infidelity, urging the media to “turn the page” on the affair, having explained that she didn’t want to add “a single word more that would feed a saga that is far from the concerns of the French people.”

Opposition leader Jean-François Copé said that the unproven affair had already “deeply damaged the function of president”. Further left of the political spectrum, the communist former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon apparently tweeted on Friday “At least now we know why he always looks so delighted” before thinking better of his little joke and deleting the entry.

According to a poll carried out on behalf of Sunday paper Journal de Dimanche, some 77% believe that the story of his alleged affair is “a private matter that concerns only François Hollande”, with 23% of respondents among the 1,025 people polled agreeing that the matter was a “public one – the private life of the President concerns all French people.”

So far, the relatively good news for Hollande is that, according to the same poll (which was taken before the hospitalisation of Ms Trierweiler was made public), his popularity ratings have not been affected and he still remains one of the most unpopular French presidents in history. The nation awaits his clarification.

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