Power & the pas­sion

France’s First Lady opens up about their un­usual mar­riage

Woman’s Day (NZ) - - What a Week! - #

Look­ing per­fectly chic in a baby blue Louis Vuit­ton twin­set, France’s new­est First Lady, Brigitte Trogneux, could not hide her pride as her hus­band was sworn in as the coun­try’s youngest head of state since Napoleon Bon­a­parte ear­lier this month.

Em­manuel Macron’s as­cent to vic­tory has been noth­ing short of stun­ning, but it’s the 39-year-old’s mar­riage that has led to the most at­ten­tion since his land­slide vic­tory over the con­ser­va­tive Marine Le Pen. Head­lines have fo­cused not so much on his po­lit­i­cal achieve­ments, but on his 64-year-old wife Brigitte and their un­con­ven­tional love story.

While their 24-year age gap has raised eye­brows, it’s the way they met that has di­vided opin­ion around the globe. Brigitte was a drama teacher at Em­manuel’s pri­vate school in Amiens, North­ern France, and the pair fell for each other when he starred in one of her plays at age 15.

“It was at sec­ondary school, through drama, that I met Brigitte,” Em­manuel con­fessed. “It was sur­rep­ti­tiously that things hap­pened and that I fell in love through an in­tel­lec­tual bond, which day af­ter day be­came ever closer. Then emerged a last­ing pas­sion.”

Brigitte, mean­while, re­calls that when she ar­rived at La Prov­i­dence school – at the time, a mar­ried mother-ofthree – “all the teach­ers were buzzing about Em­manuel”.

Her own daugh­ter Lau­rence, a class­mate of his, also spoke of him as “that amaz­ing guy” who “knows ev­ery­thing about ev­ery­thing”. Brigitte soon found her­self in awe of his “ex­cep­tional in­tel­li­gence, a way of think­ing that I had never ever seen be­fore”.

“Ev­ery Fri­day, for sev­eral months, we spent hours work­ing on a play to­gether,” Em­manuel wrote in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. “Once the play was writ­ten, we de­cided to pro­duce it to­gether. We chat­ted about ev­ery­thing. The writ­ing be­came an ex­cuse. I felt we had al­ways known each other.”

Un­sur­pris­ingly, when Em­manuel’s par­ents – who are both doc­tors – got wind of the af­fair, they were not happy. They packed up their son and sent him to Paris to com­plete his ed­u­ca­tion, beg­ging Brigitte to stay away from him un­til he reached adult­hood.

“I can’t prom­ise you any­thing,” Brigitte an­swered tear­fully, while Em­manuel’s mother – who says she re­alised from the start that this would not be a pass­ing fling – replied, “You don’t un­der­stand – you al­ready have your life. He won’t have chil­dren!”

But the lovelorn teenager promised Brigitte, “You can­not get rid of me. I will come back and I will marry you.” And he was true to his word.

Af­ter fin­ish­ing his stud­ies, he re­turned to Brigitte – who had left her hus­band – and the pair wed in 2007, when he was 29 and his wife was 54. Em­manuel is said to be a dot­ing step­grand­fa­ther to her seven grand­chil­dren, reg­u­larly re­leas­ing pho­tos show­ing happy do­mes­tic scenes.

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While the pres­i­dent – who prom­ises to rad­i­cally trans­form France with his cen­trist pol­i­tics – ac­knowl­edges his mar­riage is un­usual, he has spo­ken out about the “ab­hor­rent” re­ac­tion to the age gap. “If I had been 20 years older than my wife, no­body would have thought for a sin­gle sec­ond that I couldn’t be.”

He says the spec­u­la­tion is an “odi­ous” re­flec­tion of the fact that pol­i­tics is still very male-dom­i­nated and in­sists that “there is no less love in our fam­ily” just be­cause it’s dif­fer­ent.

In­deed, oth­ers have pointed out that the 23-year age gap be­tween US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his wife Me­la­nia has been barely men­tioned since he came to power last year.

Brigitte’s lawyer daugh­ter Tiphaine Auz­ière, 32, re­cently spoke out, say­ing the scru­tiny and judg­ment is “out­ra­geous”.

“We can­not re­main in­dif­fer­ent to this and now I do not want to give any im­por­tance to peo­ple who con­vey this kind of stuff be­cause I find it to­tally out­ra­geous in France in the 21st cen­tury to make such at­tacks,” says Tiphaine.

“These are at­tacks that we wouldn’t di­rect at male politi­cians or at a man who would ac­com­pany a fe­male politi­cian, so I think there’s a lot of jeal­ousy and that this is very in­ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Brigitte, mean­while, per­haps said it best when re­spond­ing to a car­toon of Em­manuel rest­ing a hand on the preg­nant stom­ach of his wife, with the caption: “He’s go­ing to work mir­a­cles!” She tweeted, “Ev­ery­thing that is tech­ni­cally pos­si­ble is not nec­es­sar­ily de­sir­able or de­sired.”

Brigitte posted to Twit­ter later the same day, “I’ve be­come ac­cus­tomed to lis­ten­ing only to those who con­vey pos­i­tive mes­sages.”

In­au­gu­ra­tion pride: The First Lady and the newly elected Pres­i­dent. Above:Ab O On ththe elec­tionl ti trail. Right: Em­manuel and Brigitte fell in love when she was his high-school teacher.

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