His mild, owlish looks certainly belie his attraction to women and, tasty as a crème caramel might be, French president François Hollande, aka “Monsieur Flanby”, cannot relish being compared to a baked custard pudding.
Nonetheless, he stands, blinking anxiously, at the centre of a tumultuous love triangle, as his former partner of 30 years and the mother of his four children, the fellow socialist politician Ségolène Royal, and his current lover, the journalist Valérie Trierweiler, rage like Furies around him.
Trierweiler, famously jealous of her predecessor, calls Royal “the madwoman of Poitou” and tweeted in favour of Royal’s rival in parliamentary elections earlier this year, wrecking her chances of becoming Speaker of the Lower House. Royal, no slouch in the low blow stakes, tried to get Trierweiler sacked from her job on Paris Match and has described her as having “no professional ethics”.
Now there are three books out detailing the president’s love life, including allegations of an enfant de l’amour by a third woman. All this is being played out with gusto in the French press, a far cry from the days when journalists tiptoed around the convoluted love lives of the former presidents François “two households” Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac.
The Ex, a biography of Royal by journalist Sylvain Courage, suggests that frisky Hollande, was “no doubt” unfaithful to Royal even before he took up with Trierweiler.
In Between Two Fires by Anne Rosencher and Anna Cabana, a friend of Hollande is quoted as saying: “François has his share of responsibility for Valérie’s incredible jealousy. He likes women. He looks at them. It’s very harrowing for Valérie.” Harrowing indeed, and this might explain why a third book, The Favourite, describes Trierweiler as “explosive and dangerous”.
The French first lady does herself no favours. Appearing to stage manage their summer holiday this year, the couple took the train to the Fort de Brégançon, the summer residence of French presidents, and then strolled along a public beach in full view of photographers, Trierweiler looking the part in a Marie Antoinette-style “peasant” dress. She then tried to ban publication of paparazzi snaps of Hollande and herself in their swimsuits on their private beach. In the event, one of these photographs was published in Paris Match, the very magazine Trierweiler writes for.
“What is annoying is that she herself is a journalist and yet she doesn’t seem to tolerate the press at all,” says Mathieu Janin, deputy editor of the magazine VSU, which was ordered by a Paris court to pay about £1,500 in damages to Trierweiler.
What can Hollande do to soothe the furrowed brow of his troubled lover? It’s a controversial suggestion for a post-1960s socialist who has hitherto treated marriage as a bourgeois convention, but he could always marry her. In Mrs Patrick Campbell’s words, the president could relinquish “the hurly-burly of the chaise longue for the deep, deep peace of the double bed”.
Whatever success Royal achieves — the president is said to be thinking of offering her a plum role at Unesco — it might vex Trierweiler less if she were Madame Hollande, a status her predecessor never achieved in three decades. It might also help restore the perception that Hollande is in control of his tempestuous partner.
Then again, M. Flanby is clearly the kind of Frenchman who finds monogamy too bourgeois. As the late Jimmy Goldsmith famously said, to marry the mistress is to create a vacancy.