At about 2am Emmanuel Macron retires to his private quarters in the Élysée Palace for a final review of his working day with his closest adviser: his wife Brigitte.
The nightly routine, illustrating the president’s dependence on the wisdom of the première dame, has been revealed by a journalist whose friendship with the couple ended after they failed to stop her writing a book about their relationship.
Gaël Tchakaloff, a political biographer, writes of the Macron routine as if talking to the president and using the familiar “tu” with her former friend.
“You go to bed after a full debriefing with the woman who is in love with you. Sometimes she is dozing and doesn’t at all hear what you are telling her. But most of the time she awaits you.”
Tchakaloff, 49, offers a familiar portrait of a literature-loving young leader whose deep attachment to his wife, a former teacher 24 years his senior, was central to his unlikely election as a political debutant in 2017. In Tant qu’on est tous les deux (“While we’re alone”), she also offers an unusual glimpse of the intensity of their relationship and the degree to which Mrs Macron, 68, protects her former pupil.
“There is never an hour and a half that passes without them talking to one another,” Tchakaloff writes. “They have a shared schedule. They know minute by minute what the other is doing. They are persuaded that being a couple increases your individuality.”
Tchakaloff describes the pressure that Mrs Macron came under in the 2017 campaign, when she was almost unknown to the French. “The jokes about her age, the rumors that her husband was homosexual. The questioning about their love. Macron’s inner circle did not want to put her forward because she was blonde, older than him, blow-dried. They didn’t notice her intelligence. Now she is an asset.”
A fly-on-the-wall documentary after the election showed how Mrs Macron still held the coach’s role that she had played when the teenage future president fell for her while she was his drama teacher. Tchakaloff’s account shows that Macron’s loving reliance on his spouse has echoes of past power couples such as Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Denis and Margaret Thatcher.
The Macron Enigma
Tchakaloff describes the emotional side of the president who is aiming for re-election next April. “I’ve seen him with his eyes full of tears, like in Kigali [Rwanda] during his speech at the memorial to the genocide,” she writes.
A Cabinet member, who is indicated to be Bruno Le Maire, the finance minister, tells the author that the president is “too attached to his freedom, lacks confidence in himself and is surrounded by a circle of men without quality,” according to extracts published recently by Le Point magazine.
A former president who is not named but is clearly François Hollande, Macron’s former boss, gives a scathing account of his performance. “He believes in nothing. He has no convictions,” Hollande says. “Macron has neglected La République en Marche, his start-up party which governs the country, allowing it to become an empty shell.”
After traveling with Macron and becoming so familiar in the Elysée Palace that she says she could walk into Macron’s office without knocking, Tchakaloff calls the intellectual president “extremely difficult to read and understand”. She adds: “He is unsatisfied with the human condition, so he takes refuge in art, literature and mysticism. He is not aligned with his post. The French have not accepted his contradictions.”
Dr Françoise Noguès, Macron’s mother, said she believes her son is happy but has still not found his calling. “I am convinced that he will turn to writing, that he will change path,” she is quoted as telling the author. “He’s not the kind who will do political conferences around the world. At 27, he didn’t know what he would do in life and I think it’s still the same.”
“He believes in nothing. He has no convictions,” Hollande says of Macron.
Tchakaloff, who won a 2016 prize for an earlier book on a senior politician, says the Macrons turned against her when it became clear her book would focus on Mrs Macron and their relationship. In an angry phone call, Mrs Macron tells her: “You mustn’t touch this. I don’t want us to be talked about. I don’t want our couple to be exposed.”
She rings back the next day to apologize. “Emmanuel is tougher than me,” she is quoted as saying. “I step back. It’s my way of protecting myself. I don’t know how to do otherwise.”
Tchakaloff, whose book is a mixture of biography and first-person reportage, is deemed by presidential staff to be “as dangerous as nitroglycerin”.
She rejects her reputation as an out-of-control troublemaker who charms her way into their favors. “I am in no way a manipulator and seduction only lasted for four or five years,” she says.
Strong spouses: A history
- Yvonne de Gaulle was the quiet strength behind the leader of wartime Free French forces and president from 1959. Yvonne Vendroux, known to the French as “Aunt Yvonne”, was a discreet, conservative Catholic who bolstered De Gaulle through turbulent times. Unlike many other French leaders, De Gaulle remained famously faithful to the girl he married in 1921 and who died in 1979.
- Ronald and Nancy Reagan had a rock-solid marriage for more than half a century. The former actress Nancy Davis, who died in 2016, was the “best friend” whose support was crucial to the political career of the Hollywood actor who was US president from 1981-89.
- Denis Thatcher, a former army officer and senior oil executive, was a private man who played a pivotal role in supporting Margaret Thatcher behind the scenes when she served as prime minister from 1979-90. “I could never have been prime minister for more than 11 years without Denis by my side,” she wrote in her autobiography.
- Madame de Pompadour or Jeanne Poisson, as she was born in 1721, became the official chief mistress of the French king Louis XV in 1745 and became a powerful figure, effectively prime minister. Pompadour, who died in 1764, was the only person he trusted and the only person who told him the truth.
Charles Bremner is the Paris correspondent for The Times of London