Paris. When French voters are asked to describe centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, age appears to be a defining characteristic in several ways.
The 39-year-old Macron could become the youngest contemporary French president. He would also be accompanied into the Élysée Palace by his wife, Brigitte, who is 24 years older than him.
Both would be highly unusual, if not unprecedented.
Since Macron founded his own political movement about one year ago, his wife has rapidly adapted to the sudden prospect of becoming the next first lady of France.
The unusual relationship between Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker and economy minister, has plenty of that to offer. Born as Brigitte Marie-Claude Trogneux, the now 64-year-old spent much of her life as a high school teacher.
The two first met when Macron was 15 years old at the high school in Amiens where then-Brigitte Trogneux taught a French and a theatre class. She was his teacher and was also married to another man at the time and they had three children.
They bonded when they wrote a play together. “Whatever you do, I’ll marry you!” Macron told her when their love life intensified.
But when Macron told his parents of his interest, they sent him away to school in Paris. The two continued with a long distance relationship, corresponding regularly, and by the time Macron was 18, Trogneux had divorced her husband and moved to Paris to be with him.
But the two long kept their relationship a secret. “Nobody will ever know at what moment our story became a love story. That belongs to us. That is our secret,” Trogneux said of the origin of their relationship.
In the following decades, as Macron rose from being an investment banker to economics minister, their relationship was often put under scrutiny and “misunderstood by many,” as the top-politician himself has said.
In 2007, the two married but refrained from talking about it to most people. It took eight more years until the two made their first public appearance during a dinner with King Felipe of Spain and his wife. The intense election campaign of the last year has put an end to the secrecy. Almost everyone in France is aware of the details of their love story by now.
Macron’s own view of his relationship, which the French press and populace seem to agree with, is perhaps summarised in a tidbit from his wedding speech that became publicized over the course of the election. Thanking Trogneux’s children for accepting their relationship, Macron acknowledged the two are “not at all a normal couple — though I don’t like that adjective much — but we’re a couple that exists.”
French first couples have always had odd stories
Queen Marie-Antoinette’s lavish spending contributed to the fall of the French monarchy in the late 18th century and Empress Josephine was divorced because she couldn’t give Napoleon Bonaparte an heir.
In 1914, Prime Minister Joseph Caillaux’s wife Henriette killed the editor of the Le Figaro newspaper because he was a political threat to her husband.
In the 1980s and 1990s, while Socialist president Francois Mitterrand led a double life with the mother of his illegitimate daughter Mazarine, his wife Danielle had a love life of her own. Bernadette Chirac, the wife of Jacques Chirac suggested to a biographer that she silently put up with the many infidelities of her husband.
Nicolas Sarkozy’s wife Cecilia left him for her lover just six months after he took office in 2007. In 2014, President Francois Hollande’s partner Valerie Trierweiler published a bitter tell-all book on him after his liaison with actress Julie Gayet became public. They then separated. (Agencies)