Regal Manner Kept Private Scandals out of Public Eye

Article excerpt

ANDREW GUMBEL

For all the royal demeanour that he brought to the presidency, Francois Mitterrand never chose to make a spectacle of his family circle. Following French political tradition, he gave little away about his personal life, aside from the occasional near-obligatory hint about his great reputation as a womaniser.

Towards the end of his life, the reasons for such reticence became understood. In November 1994, Paris-Match splashed across its cover a photograph of the President leaving a restaurant with his "secret", illegitimate 19- year-old daughter, called Mazarine. Inside one learnt Mitterrand had been keeping Mazarine's mother, Anne Pingeot, as an unofficial second wife for years.

In fact, Paris-Match's scoop was less exclusive than it appeared. Political colleagues and journalists were aware of the President's personal arrangements but considered them irrelevant to his public image and never bothered to broadcast them widely. To them, Paris-Match had simply infringed the boundaries of good taste.

One suspects British-style media might have dealt with the Mitterrand family differently, and not only because of Mazarine. There were enough strong personalities around the President to create a whole Dynasty-full of tabloid drama.

First there was Danielle, his legal wife, a headstrong personality in her own right whose trenchant stands on human rights occasionally brought her into conflict with her husband. …