Power & the passion
France’s First Lady opens up about their unusual marriage
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.
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.