Valerie Trierweiler

Article excerpt

Byline: Tracy McNicoll

Look out, Carla Bruni: There's a bombshell ready to help the left's Francois Hollande lead France.

Whoever wins the French presidential election in May--struggling incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy or his Socialist challenger, Francois Hollande--trust the air of glamour and soupcon of intrigue we've come to expect of France's first lady to remain. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, you already know. Now meet Valerie Trierweiler, Hollande's partner, whose path to the Elysee Palace has hardly been less extraordinary.

Bright and elegant, with a Katharine Hepburn coolness, all striking cheekbones and twirling waves of auburn, Trierweiler, 46, is a journalist and mother of three teenage boys from a previous union. Unlike Bruni, she had an upbringing that has been described as modest, a term she rejects. ("I'm not Cinderella," she told French Elle.) She was raised in the Loire Valley, one of six children; her father struggled as a war amputee, her mother was a cashier at the local skating rink. And unlike Bruni, she is no stranger to politics. A political reporter for two decades at the glossy weekly Paris Match (she's known Hollande professionally since she was 23) and a respected TV interviewer, Trierweiler knows campaigns.

But now, supporting Hollande on the trail, she has an office at campaign headquarters. She's quit political reporting, reluctantly, instead debuting a celebrity-interview TV show last weekend. And she tweets, sometimes in acerbic defense of her candidate beau. Yet when Trierweiler's old confreres on the press bus sketch profiles of her "coming out of the shadows," the phrase is heavy with meaning. Journalist-and-politician couples aren't exotic in France; see Mrs. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Anne Sinclair, who launched Le Huffington Post last week. But in an unusual, clandestine way, Trierweiler was at the heart of France's last presidential election, too.

Then, candidate Segolene Royal, with her people's touch and iconic white skirt suits, rode a wave of grassroots fervor to win the Socialist primary and became the first French woman to reach a presidential runoff. …