Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life

Article excerpt

Of all the interesting revelations by the French magazine Closer about Francois Hollande, the most interesting for me is its claim that he owns only one pair of shoes. I don't think I know anybody with only one pair of shoes. Even my brother John, who at the age of 86 has rather let himself go sartorially-speaking, possesses two pairs. Yet if Closer is to be believed, the President of France has only one pair. The president's shoes are important because when he arrived from the Elysee Palace on the back of a moped for a visit to his alleged mistress in a nearby apartment, his face was hidden by a safety helmet.

So Closer, which secretly photographed his arrival, had to rely on his shoes to confirm his identity. They were, it said, the same shoes he had worn on an earlier visit to Saudi Arabia; and they were, it added, his only ones.

It seems extraordinary that a man occupying the grandest and most powerful of European leadership positions, one originally designed for the towering figure of General de Gaulle, should be so inadequately shod.

But then Hollande is not only much smaller than his august precursor (5 foot 6 inches to de Gaulle's 6 foot 5 inches); as a socialist, he cultivates simplicity and modesty. And to care too much about shoes suggests vanity and self-importance in a man. One of the reasons why I never clean my shoes (though I do have two or three pairs of them) is that one of my drearier contemporaries at Eton, a well-groomed, well-scrubbed member of the landed gentry, told me that the best way to tell a gentleman was by the condition of his footwear. From then on I was determined never to be mistaken for a gentleman.

You certainly couldn't mistake Hollande for one, and this may be a reason for his great unpopularity (the principal reason, of course, being France's economic plight). The French seem to like dash and elegance in their leaders, which means that they would probably prefer them not to visit their mistresses on mopeds. The womanising itself does not worry them in the least. The first opinion poll carried out after the magazine's disclosure of Hollande's relationship with the steamy blonde actress Julie Gayet showed that only 13 per cent of those questioned thought any the worse of him for it. An impressive 84 per cent said it hadn't affected their view of him at all, and 3 per cent actually felt better about him as a result. …

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