In the United States, sex scandals can destroy political careers. In France, they’re considered an occupational hazard.
As France’s presidential election heats up between centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron and his opponent, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, fascination with Macron’s 10-year marriage surfaces.
According to a story published on Monday in the Washington Post, 39-year-old Emmanuel — who on Sunday won the first round of the French elections — and his wife, 64-year-old Brigitte, are high school sweethearts, with a twist. The pair met when Macron, then 15 (though other reports cite his age as 17), attended high school in Amiens, France, where Brigitte Trogneux, who was then married with three children, was a drama teacher.
In a story published in the Daily Mail, Brigitte said of their meeting, “He [Macron] came to audition for a part in the play and I watched him. I just found him incredible. He had such presence. Without doubt he wasn’t like the others. He was always with the teachers. He simply wasn’t an adolescent.”
The U.K. paper also published photos of a teenage Emmanuel kissing his then teacher on the cheek after a 1993 play performance.
Journalist Anne Fulda interviewed Emmanuel’s parents for the forthcoming book Emmanuel Macron: A Perfect Young Man, and in it, Emmanuel’s mother reportedly said of the pair’s blossoming love, “We couldn’t believe it. What is clear is that when Emmanuel met Brigitte, we couldn’t just say, ‘That’s great!’”
His mom also reportedly tried to convince Brigitte to stay away from her son by telling her, “Don’t you see. You’ve had your life. But he won’t have children with you.” (According to Reuters, a spokesperson for the couple states that Fulda hadn’t consulted Emmanuel and Brigitte on their respective family’s feelings about their relationship.)
According to the Washington Post, the Macrons kept their marriage discreet for many years; however, Emmanuel’s run for the presidency has thrust the couple into the spotlight. Emmanuel has been forced to deny rumors he was involved in a homosexual affair with a French radio executive, while Brigitte’s appearance — short hemlines, a weakness for Louis Vuitton, and the nickname “the French Jane Fonda” — have been written about in Vogue. Brigitte, who put her teaching career on hold to become Emmanuel’s adviser during his political campaign, comes from a renowned and successful family of chocolatiers.
Brigitte’s age has also been mocked in the media, despite supporters dismissing the couple’s scandalous history as irrelevant. As proof, French president François Hollande has been photographed traveling to and from his alleged mistress’s apartment on a moped while in a long-term relationship with journalist Valerie Trierweiler. And former French president Jacques Chirac’s extramarital affairs were also well known.
Despite divided opinion on the Macron’s marriage, the couple is clearly committed. “We don’t have a classic family, that’s an undeniable reality,” Emmanuel said, according to Bloomberg. “There is no less love in our family.”
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