In France, there is a fascination with the independent candidate’s marriage to a woman 24 years his senior
As the French presidential elections approach, and with the far-right Front National leading in the polls ahead of the youthful En Marche party of Emmanuel Macron, romance is likely the last thing on anyone’s mind.
But a charming and refreshing detail about Mr Macron’s personal life could offer an insight into the sort of leader he might prove to be.
Mr Macron’s relationship with his wife dates back to 1994, when the then 15-year-old schoolboy met 39-year-old mother-of-three Brigitte Trogneux, at a Jesuit school in the conservative town of Amiens, France. Ms Trogneux taught literature and ran the theatre club at Mr Macron’s school, and the pair grew closer after he convinced her to write a play with him.
After a young Mr Macron’s parents found out about the couple’s budding romance, they insisted that he leave for Paris to complete the rest of his secondary education. He reportedly promised Ms Trogneux that he would return one day to marry her, and he did.
The fact that his wife is 24 years his senior is hardly remarkable, considering that this is almost an expected norm when the genders are reversed – Donald Trump is 24 years older than Melania. But this doesn’t stop the press, both local and international, from repeatedly drawing attention to the age gap.
Such bizarre fascination hasn’t stopped Mr Macron from charmingly displaying his devotion to the love of his life. Their public displays of affection have led to French gossip magazine Paris Match running a number of covers of the couple as they hold hands, go on holiday and attend state events.
Seeing a man who is attractive and powerful with a woman who is 24 years older than him has led some of his critics to spread rumours about his sexuality. There were recently unfounded claims in Parisian circles that he had an affair with Mathieu Gallet, chief executive of Radio France.
Mr Macron is as open about the interest in his home life as he is with the other main criticism people seem to have about him – his youth and relative inexperience as a politician. At a rally in London he said: “I boast of my political immaturity and inexperience because their political experience is political inefficiency.” He knows that people, especially the young, are fed up with the current systems that are in place and are desperate for something new.
The way in which Macron is able to attract young voters is the envy of every politician. He has been able to do what the Liberal Democrats have failed to do and what the Tories are still desperately working towards. At his rally in London in February, an overwhelmingly young group of people cheered him on to the sound of the Ting Tings playing in the background.
His pro-European and proudly pro-internationalist values may have something to do with his popularity among an increasingly mobile and international generation. His rallies in cities outside of France invariably see large turnouts – the London event had an estimated 4,000 attendees.
Speaking to the Swiss broadcaster RTS, Anne Dardelet, a French legal practitioner living in Geneva, Switzerland, says Mr Macron appeals to young people who have felt disillusioned by politics for a while. She says she’s supporting En Marche because “it’s time that politicians served the people. Politics of today leaves way too many people in the margins. […] We need this to change.”
Similarly, one of Mr Macron’s young “les helpers”, Axelle Tessandier, who is based in En Marche’s startup-like Paris headquarters, says she looks forward to the positive change the party offers: “With En Marche, we don’t feel angry, we don’t feel hate, we don’t spread fear. We are just working towards a vision, and a positive project that looks forward to the future”.
On the surface, Mr Macron has the usual tell-tale signs of a pro-establishment, pro-elitism figure. He bears the title of énarque, having studied at France’s most prestigious higher education establishment for people seeking office, the Ecole nationale d’administration (ENA). ENA boasts the likes of Jacques Chirac, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Segolene Royale as alumni. Mr Macron is also former Rothschild banker, and then cemented his name in politics as a civil servant in Francois Hollande’s office.
His clean image and overall ambiguity have led some critics to accuse him of being dishonest or not being truly himself. But his ability to win the hearts of the most sought-after demographic in France has put the En Marche campaign up there with the most successful, and has convinced many people of Mr Macron’s potential to offer something different.
One thing is certain: whether in his personal life or his policies, Mr Macron does not follow convention, nor does he do things half-heartedly. In an interview with the Sunday Times he said: “Taking risks is part of life. Wishing that away is to start lying to yourself … and to give in to the gloom. Succumbing to indifference, to the morose, to the day-by-day — that is the gravest risk. You only change things by taking risks, you only build things by taking risks.”
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