The Telegraph
| Sunday, January 19, 2014 |

7days

Sex in London and Paris

The French love a fresh croissant after a night of passion, as demonstrated by President Franois Hollande and his beautiful mistress, Julie Gayet. But the British, says Amit Roy, prefer to turn their scandals into musicals

The British and the French have contrasting attitudes to sex scandals involving their great and good. The British tend to be hypocritical while the French still maintain the myth that even their presidents are entitled to a "legeauver" — the Daily Mail's depiction of the nocturnal activities of "Frisky Franois" — without undue scrutiny from the media.

Note that when Franois Hollande held a presidential press conference in the opulent setting of the Elysee Palace last week, only two out of the 600 journalists present dared to ask him about his outings to see his 41-year-old actress-mistress, Julie Gayet, who is 18 years his junior and is now, incidentally, reported to be pregnant.

The President would not comment on whether his live-in partner of seven years, Valrie Trierweiler, 48, was still France's First Lady and would be accompanying him on a state visit to see Barack Obama in Washington next month. Trierweiler, a Paris Match columnist nicknamed Valrie 'Rottweiler', is the biter bit — she ousted Hollande's partner of 20 years and the mother of his four children, Sgolne Royal, a fellow socialist who ran unsuccessfully for President in 2007.

Closer magazine — it published "papped" pictures of the President, in motorcycle helmet, visiting Gayet — has been applauded by the British media commentator, Roy Greenslade, for upholding press freedom.

The editor of Closer, Laurence Pieau, "thumbed" her nose at France's supposedly strict privacy legislation by publishing seven pages of pictures, commented Greenslade.

"If the courts do impose a penalty, she will take the heat," he added.

"She did the same in September 2012 when she published topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge while sunbathing in a French chateau (though there was no genuine public interest justification for that)," recalled Greenslade.

Closer was roundly condemned by the British media for publishing the topless pictures of Kate with Prince William.

British newspapers refused to touch the photos. The Mirror reported: "France's Closer magazine could be shut for up to five years and a photographer is facing a year in prison after both were placed under formal criminal investigation following the publication of topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge."

But the British are now lapping up the French scandal, since they have not had a really classy one of their own since the patrician minister for war, John Prufumo, slept with Christine Keeler, a good time girl, in 1963. Meanwhile, another teenager, Mandy Rice-Davies, had sex with assorted toffs who were part of the scene.

Fifty years on, the composer Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, of Bombay Dreams fame, has turned the Profumo scandal into a musical. He has called it Stephen Ward, after the osteopathic physician who did not himself have (that much) sex with Christine and Mandy but took pleasure in introducing them to people in high places.

For times present, the British are relying on the French. "The Hollande-Gayet affair electrifies the foreign media," announced Le Monde's political page. Le Parisien commented disdainfully that the "willingly impertinent" British press had "waited with delectation for a flurry of questions on the French head of state's relationship" with Gayet.

The Daily Mail took the trouble to send over a sketch writer, Quentin Letts, to Hollande's press conference to make the French President appear ridiculous. He referred to Hollande as "France's most unlikely swordsman since Inspector Clouseau".

And he was scathing about the docile French press: "Before him sat a salon of oyster munchers, the powdered, poodling, truth-smothering trusties of polite Parisian opinion. They are aghast that the peasants should be told about presidential legeauver... Next time he attends an international summit, what are we to think of the military officer who always follows the President of the Republic with a thick briefcase? Will it contain France's nuclear codes? Or a clean shirt and a packet of three? He spoke of his desire for (banking) union. 'I want France to be full of vitality.' Oh stop it, stop it. You're doing it on purpose."

  • Under scrutiny: (From top) Julie Gayet; President Hollande; Closer cover showing Princess Kate sunbathing

Back in Britain, Edwina Currie, a brassy politician, was wheeled out by the BBC to discuss the French. Her main claim to fame is that she once slept with Sir John Major before he became Prime Minister.

Cathy Newman, a presenter on Channel 4 News, tried to compare the British and French attitudes to sex scandals. "You can imagine the public furore if it had been the British Prime Minister on the back of a scooter bound for the boudoir of an actress nearly 20 years his junior," she said. "Unlike the French, we've always thrown up our hands in horror at the idea of our political leaders erring in the bedroom. Remember poor old Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary forced by Alastair Campbell to choose between his wife and his lover in the VIP lounge of Heathrow airport? And David Mellor quit his job after tabloid revelations about his affair with the actress Antonia De Sancha, spiced up with some unsubstantiated allegations about toe-sucking and a Chelsea football shirt. Boris Johnson was 'relieved of his duties' as shadow arts minister by the then Tory leader Michael Howard after claims about an affair with the Spectator journalist Petronella Wyatt."

Traditionally, French presidents have enjoyed the "right" to have mistresses as a perk that went with the job. A century ago, President Flix Faure "died while receiving oral sex from his mistress". President Mitterrand was "Franois, the seducer", dubbed by his wife because of his extramarital activities. Jacques Chirac's entourage even gave him the nickname "five minutes, shower included".

As for Nicolas Sarkozy, he married the former model and singer Carla Bruni after getting her pregnant — they could not come together to India until they were legally man and wife for such are the exacting standards of the world's rape capital.

Bruni last week advised Trierweiler to get married to Hollande. "I can only speak from my own experience but I think it's more simple to be the legitimate wife of the head of state than his partner."

Hollande arranged for his bodyguard to bring him and Gayet fresh croissant in the morning. On some matters, the French don't allow standards to slip.