French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday vowed to deal with the fallout from his affair with an actress in private, defiantly batting away questions over the future of his partner, Valerie Trierweiler.
Looking stiff and stressed at a packed press conference, the French Socialist Party leader said the couple were going through “painful moments” and indicated that the status of his long-term girlfriend would be clarified before a scheduled trip to the US next month.
Trierweiler, France’s de facto first lady, has been invited to accompany Hollande on the official visit.
She has been in hospital since Friday with stress linked to last week’s revelation that Hollande, 59, has been having a secret liaison with actress Julie Gayet, 41.
Asked directly if Trierweiler was still France’s first lady, Hollande insisted on the troubled couple’s right to privacy.
“Everyone in their personal lives can go through tough times. That is the case [for me]. These are painful moments, but I have one principle: these private affairs are dealt with in private. This is neither the time nor the place to do it so I will not be responding to any questions about my private life,” he said.
The instruction did the trick and Hollande visibly relaxed as it became apparent he was not going be given the kind of grilling a leader in Britain or the US could have expected in similar circumstances.
After the first question, Hollande was not asked directly about Trierweiler until questioned on her health nearly two hours later.
“She’s resting and I have no further comment to make,” he said.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney would not be drawn on whether Trierweiler would be visiting and only said that US President Barack Obama was looking forward to seeing Hollande.
Trierweiler, 48, was admitted to hospital hours after glossy magazine Closer published a series of photographs reportedly showing Hollande and Gayet arriving separately for trysts at an apartment close to the Elysee Palace.
Media reports claimed that the former journalist was suffering from low blood pressure, exhaustion and a “severe case of the blues.”
Hollande reiterated his “total indignation” over Closer’s intrusion into his private life, but said he would not be taking legal action over the report, which he has not denied.
Friends and political allies of Hollande had urged him to move quickly to clarify the situation by stating clearly if he is still in a relationship with Trierweiler. Instead, he opted to put off a public announcement of any decision the couple have made about their future.
Friends of Trierweiler have been quoted in French media as saying she is willing to forgive Hollande if he ends things with Gayet.
As well as the position of Trierweiler, who has a staff of five funded by the taxpayers, the affair raised questions about whether Hollande risked his safety by visiting the actress at the borrowed apartment.
Sebastien Valiela, the photographer who took the incriminating pictures, said it was obvious that Hollande was inadequately protected, but the French president has insisted that his security had never been compromised.
Hollande, whose approval rates are already the lowest of any French president of recent times, seems to have avoided any significant political damage from the scandal.
Polls suggest just more than three in four voters believe Hollande’s love life is his own business and one survey even showed a slight upturn in support for the beleaguered leader.