Paris (AFP) – French President Francois Hollande faced fresh scrutiny over his affair with an actress on Friday as the magazine that broke the story published claims he started seeing her before his 2012 election.
In its latest revelations about a saga that has made headlines around the world, Closer magazine said Hollande had been introduced to Julie Gayet, 41, during campaigning, fell for her immediately and “relations quickly became more intimate.”
The latest edition of the glossy weekly hit stands as Hollande’s office confirmed that he had visited his official partner, Valerie Trierweiler, for the first time since she was hospitalized in the wake of the affair revelations.
Hollande visited Trierweiler at a Paris hospital on Thursday evening, six days after she was admitted, a spokesman told AFP.
His failure to visit earlier had helped to fuel speculation that he has decided to end the relationship with Trierweiler, for whom he left Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children, in 2005.
Hollande has said he will clarify the position of France’s de facto First Lady before a trip to Washington next month but has refused any other comment on the scandal.
Closer, which is being sued by Gayet for alleged breach of privacy, reported last week that she had been having secret trysts with the president and published photographs of the pair arriving separately at a borrowed flat near his official residence, the Elysee Palace.
Hours later, Trierweiler, was admitted to a Paris hospital where she remained Friday after a week of treatment for symptoms described as including nervous exhaustion and low blood pressure.
In its follow-up story, Closer depicted Hollande’s romance with Gayet as much more than a brief fling, although it offered little in the way of concrete evidence and, unlike last week’s scoop, no pictures to back up its account.
The magazine said the couple had also regularly met at another Paris apartment and at Gayet’s loft in eastern Paris, where she hosted frequent dinner parties for members of France’s artistic, intellectual and political elite.
According to Closer, the couple took a break from seeing each other in May of last year after Trierweiler confronted Hollande over rumors he was seeing the actress.
But by July, Hollande and Gayet had reportedly resumed their romance with the president entertaining the actress in Tulle, in his former parliamentary seat in the Correze region of central France, while Trierweiler was holidaying in Greece.
Another secret mini-break allegedly followed in September at Hollande’s holiday home at Mougins on the French Riviera.
Closer said on Thursday that Gayet was seeking damages of 50,000 euros on the grounds that the magazine’s first report on the affair represented an illegal breach of her privacy.
Hollande has not denied the magazine’s report and has ruled out any legal action on his own behalf.
If it is confirmed that Hollande did begin an affair with Gayet before his 2012 victory over Nicolas Sarkozy, it will mean he presented voters with a false image of his domestic set-up during the campaign when he was said to have found happiness with Trierweiler.
Closer’s revelations have also raised questions about whether Hollande’s nocturnal activities endangered his security, about his judgement and about whether he could have been distracted from doing his job.
Those issues have been given scant consideration in the mainstream media in France, which is traditionally reticent about prying into the private lives of public figures.
The affairs of recent presidents including Jacques Chirac and Valery Giscard d’Estaing were all covered up and Francois Mitterrand was elected twice without voters knowing he had a secret mistress and daughter.
The media scene in France however is being transformed by the Internet and the success of the gossip-based publications like Closer, which argue the public has a right to know what their leaders are up to behind closed doors.
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