A magazine reported Friday that Francois Hollande routinely rides a scooter to spend the time with an actress at night, an alleged affair that has created yet another headache for the unpopular French president.
Hollande reacted furiously to the allegation - backed up by photos reportedly showing the president entering the flat of actress Julie Gayet - but did not deny it, threatening legal action over what he called an attack on his right to privacy.
Closer’s Friday edition carried a seven-page spread on the 59-year-old president’s alleged infidelity under the headline “Francois Hollande and Julie Gayet - the president’s secret love”.
“It’s a real passion that has... turned their lives upside down and makes them take insane risks,” the magazine wrote.
To back up its claims, the magazine printed photos of Gayet, 41, arriving at a flat in an upmarket part of Paris on December 30, not far from the Elysee palace where Hollande lives.
Half-an-hour later, a man whom they identify as Hollande’s bodyguard inspects the hallway of the apartment block before the arrival of a scooter with two helmeted men on board, one of whom they say is Hollande - although his face is never revealed.
The bodyguard, however, does show his face and is identified as part of Hollande’s official security detail. The next morning, according to Closer, the bodyguard delivers croissants to the couple. Three hours later, a helmeted man is pictured mounting a chauffeur-driven scooter.
In a statement to AFP, Hollande slammed the report as an attack on the right to privacy, to which he “like every other citizen has a right”. He said he was “looking into possible action, including legal action,” against the weekly magazine. But he did not deny the allegations.
Rumours that Hollande is having an affair with Gayet, a mother-of-two who is separated from Argentinian filmmaker Santiago Amigorena, have swirled for months.
In December, French actor Stephane Guillon made innuendos on the subject during a talk show where he and Gayet were invited to promote a film in which they co-star.
When the host asked Gayet about her public support for Hollande, Guillon - sitting next to her - started laughing. Asked why, he stuttered and finally said: “He would come on set. The president likes the film, his wife much less.”
Hollande lives with his partner Valerie Trierweiler, a journalist for whom he left fellow Socialist politician Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children. But the two are not married, and Trierweiler - whom Hollande described as “the love of my life” in 2010 - is referred to in the American media as “the first girlfriend”.
If confirmed, the liaison will raise considerable concerns for the security of the president. It also comes at a time of deep unpopularity for Hollande, accused of being inefficient at a time of sky-high unemployment and general economic malaise in France.
A poll published Thursday revealed that only 25 percent of those questioned said they trusted Hollande, who has become the most unpopular president in post-war France.
‘President who has a crush’
Gayet, an established television and film actress, appeared in one of Hollande’s 2012 election campaign commercials, in which she described the then-candidate as “marvellous” but also “humble and a really good listener.”
She filed a complaint in March over rumours of the affair which she said were a breach of privacy. Her lawyer said at the time there was no basis to the speculation. If confirmed, Hollande’s relationship with Gayet would perpetuate a long French tradition of philandering presidents and senior politicians.
Former president Jacques Chirac is believed to have had many extra-marital conquests, as did his predecessor Francois Mitterrand, who even had a daughter born to a mistress. France’s media is subject to strict laws on privacy, and has in the past drawn a veil over rumours about the personal lives of the country’s leaders.
Under the laws, invasion of privacy can be punished with a year’s jail and a fine of 45,000 euros ($61,000).
The French are also known for being tolerant of their leaders’ infidelities, which have in the past proved to have little or no negative impact on popularity ratings. On Friday, politicians from either side of the political spectrum supported Hollande in his right to keep his private life private.
Laurence Pieau, editor of Closer, told Europe 1 radio that Hollande was just a “normal president” - a term he himself has used to describe his presidency. “He’s a president who has a crush,” she added.
The French magazine that revealed the president’s alleged affair has said that it would remove the report from its website at her request.
“Julie Gayet’s lawyer contacted us to request we remove from the website all mention of this relationship,” Laurence Pieau, editor of Closer, told AFP, adding the information would likely be taken off the site on Friday evening.–AFP