JUST A PRETty Face? (1) Tomorrow, a Glamorous Mother of Four Will Launch Her Bid to Be France's First Woman President. but Is Segolene Royal's Socialism the Answer to France's Stagnating economy.And Is She All Image Anyway? (2) SATURDAY DISPATCH

Daily Mail (London), November 25, 2006 | Go to article overview
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JUST A PRETty Face? (1) Tomorrow, a Glamorous Mother of Four Will Launch Her Bid to Be France's First Woman President. but Is Segolene Royal's Socialism the Answer to France's Stagnating economy.And Is She All Image Anyway? (2) SATURDAY DISPATCH


Byline: SARAH SANDS;PETER ALLEN

NO ONE has seemed more surprised by the rise of Segolene Royal than the father of her four children. Francois Hollande, the leader of France's Socialist Party, had always assumed that he would run his country one day.

But tomorrow, he will watch his partner (they've never married) installed as his party's candidate to be the next president of France.

An observer close to the couple has noticed the effect: 'While Segolene has been grooming herself for power, Francois has been sitting about looking pretty bemused.' When she won 60 per cent of the party vote last week, Hollande said with trembling ambiguity: 'I do not divulge my emotions.' Now Segolene is about to leave Hollande's offices, the Socialist headquarters on Paris's Left Bank, for a more appropriate base on the Right Bank - a short hop from the Elysee Palace which is the home of the president. She does so with a clear view of her rivals: 'For men who have spent all of their life engaged in the conquest of power, seeing a woman overtaking them is viscerally unbearable.' Her partner's bemusement is understandable, for Segolene has always taken care to defer to him. Indeed, part of the reason for her popularity, amusingly, is that people do not regard this elegant, attractive 53-year- old French woman as pushy.

She and Hollande, the son of a doctor, met at the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, the elite college where many of France's top civil service are educated. He was a couple of years younger but became her boyfriend and political mentor.

Television footage of their early life together shows her serving dinner to him and feeding their young children. How dowdy she seemed then, with wonky teeth and an unconfident dress sense. There are shades of the early Hillary Clinton in her. Both women were outshone by their partners. The only difference is that Hillary still is.

Segolene's devotion to her home and family - the couple have four children aged between 14 and 22 - initially suggested a lack of personal ambition. But she quietly became a protegee of the economist and former presidential adviser Jacques Attali, who says fondly: 'She embodies both the fragility and the stubbornness that most French people see in their ideal image of themselves.' SHE also represents the sense of chic that most politicians find hard to achieve but which comes naturally to French women. Yet, predictably, she has many critics - particularly those men who have found her triumph 'viscerally unbearable' and those who put her success down to 'the bikini shots'.

These were the now famous photographs taken in the Riviera in August, in which Segolene, a month short of her 53rd birthday, looked sensational. In the words of an editorial in Le Parisien newspaper: 'She looks like a star on holiday.' While the pictures catapulted Segolene to celebrity status, they appalled traditionalists. The French are used to a high level of privacy for public figures. French newspapers and magazines do not generally publish pictures of their political leaders on holiday.

Renaud Revel, the French social commentator, wrote bitterly: 'Politicians are deliberately exposing their private lives. We would never have seen this 20 years ago. All the barriers of our old French modesty are being shattered.' Poignantly, the pictures that made her a national symbol had the opposite effect for her partner.

Behind the slim, sexy woman appeared the balding, bespectacled and frankly overweight Francois, sitting down in unflattering black shorts reading a novelty book called The History Of France For Dummies.

Until recently, little in Segolene's political career suggested she might become president. A political book published last year profiled 15 likely presidential candidates but did not include her.

She was a junior minister under President Mitterrand with responsibilities for schools, the environment and social affairs, but seemed eclipsed by Hollande when he became leader of the Socialist Party in 2002.

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JUST A PRETty Face? (1) Tomorrow, a Glamorous Mother of Four Will Launch Her Bid to Be France's First Woman President. but Is Segolene Royal's Socialism the Answer to France's Stagnating economy.And Is She All Image Anyway? (2) SATURDAY DISPATCH
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