MUMBAI : A smiling Valerie Trierweiler braved a media scrum as she visited sick children in India on Monday in her first public appearance since her break-up from French President Francois Hollande.
The former first lady appeared relaxed but declined to talk about her private life to a pack of journalists as she toured a hospital ward for premature babies and a malnutrition centre in a Mumbai slum. Wearing a dark blue dress reand heels, the 48-year-old insisted she would only discuss her work promoting French charity Action Against Hunger.
She flew in from Paris late on Sunday and will give a press conference in the afternoon at the five-star Taj hotel where a fund-raising gala dinner will also be held, sponsored by champagne brand Moet & Chandon among others.
Ignoring questions on her split from Hollande, she said she had found the sight of premature babies “very moving” while promising to continue to highlight malnutrition.
“It’s an injustice because even if everything is done for the best, they don’t have the same resources as in our hospitals,” she said at the maternity ward where some pre-term babies weigh less than one kilogram (two pounds).
Up to 20 policemen stood guard to keep order with many patients left bemused by the sight of the glamorous mother-of-three who spent a week in hospital herself after revelations about Hollande’s affair.
Later at a malnutrition centre in the giant Dharavi slum, featured in the hit film “Slumdog Millionaire”, she tasted a paste given to under-nourished children and underlined India’s child mortality rate.
“In India a child dies every 30 seconds, not all from malnutrition,” she said.
The twice-married career journalist visited India in February last year with Hollande. She spent time at a shelter for street children in New Delhi and spoke of her desire as First Lady to become a champion of children’s rights.
Hollande announced to AFP on Saturday that he was splitting from his partner of eight years following intense media scrutiny over his relationship with French actress Julie Gayet, 41.
The separation has fuelled debate in France about whether an official role is necessary for a president’s partner or spouse. A recent poll by Le Parisien daily showed that 54 percent of French people felt it was not.
The Socialist leader heads to Turkey on Monday on his first trip abroad since the split and the first visit to that country by a French head of state in 22 years.
Labour Minister Michel Sapin, who is close to Hollande, said Sunday the separation “was necessary for the sake of clarity”.
A source in Trierweiler’s entourage told AFP that she was “on good terms with the president,” adding that the former couple had lunched together on Thursday to finalise the end of their relationship.
She visited India accompanied by a presidential bodyguard and was greeted by the French ambassador to India, Francois Richier, at the airport.
The break-up came after revelations two weeks ago in the celebrity-focused Closer magazine that Hollande had been having an affair with Gayet, whom he allegedly visited late at night on a motor scooter.
Hollande has reiterated that he has no intention of speaking about his private life despite attacks from opponents in France who have slammed his alleged infidelity.
The 59-year-old has four children from former partner Segolene Royal, a Socialist party presidential candidate in 2007 from whom he officially split shortly after her defeat by Nicolas Sarkozy.
He then started living openly with Trierweiler, who assumed the role of first lady at official functions after Hollande’s election in 2012.
“I believe that everybody now understands that president or not president, one is entitled to have a private life,” Hollande told Time magazine on Saturday.
Trierweiler’s decision to reappear publicly in India was a surprise and the trip has required some careful planning by local organisers because of the intense media interest.
It is being financed mostly by private Indian partners, the charity said.
“Because of the large number of media people, it was more difficult to organise which forced us to review the organisation,” a spokeswoman for Action Against Hunger told AFP.
Monday’s dinner has been organised to promote Action Against Hunger’s new local organisation, the Fight Hunger Foundation.
She is being shown around the city by French actress Charlotte Valandrey, who helps promote organ donations and transplants.