The new ‘First Lady’ of France, Brigitte Macron, is not going to be hiding from the limelight – her husband Emmanuel says he wants her to play an important role at his side as he takes up the presidency.
While the job is not official as it is in the USA – it is not mentioned in any legal text – President Macron has said he wants that to change.
Being a French President’s wife has evolved over the decades. Anne Fulda, a Le Figaro political writer and author of Emmanuel Macron: Un jeune homme si parfait (such a perfect young man), said: “Politicians put their private lives in the public eye now. The wife is a political tool.”
It is a far cry from the wife’s role in the second half of the 20th century. The most discreet of all First Ladies, said Ms Fulda, was Anne-Aymone Giscard d’Estaing, wife of Valéry (President from 1974-1981).
“And Danielle, the wife of François Mitterrand [1981-1995], was similarly low-profile. Then during the early part of his presidency, Jacques Chirac [1995-2007] hid his wife Bernadette, putting his daughter Claude out front instead.
“Over time Bernadette became one of the most politically engaged of all First Ladies, doing a lot for personal causes such as sick children, anorexic girls and old people.
“Nicolas Sarkozy’s [2007-2012] ‘first’ First Lady, Cécilia, was also among the most politically engaged, while his ‘second’, Carla Bruni, was more classic and traditional in her place alongside the President.”
Is there a pattern to the prominence of the spouses? “Wives from the right have certainly been more to the fore,” said Ms Fulda.
What can we expect of Brigitte Macron, whose political upbringing was more right-leaning than her husband, whose political stance is now centrist? “She has her interests – education, women’s and children’s causes. But they are a very close couple. They talk a lot and he will listen to her a lot,” said Ms Fulda.
Mr Macron told TF1 news he wanted to give his wife a real ‘public role’ and resolve what he called a ‘French hypocrisy’. He said:“When you’re elected president of the Republic, you live with someone, you give your days and nights, you give your public life and your private life. So the person who lives with you must have a role and be recognised in that role.”
Bertrand Meyer-Stabley echoed those sentiments: “We do not have a royal family in France so the First Lady plays an important role.”
But he added a note of warning: “Before Mrs Macron, we had eight women, from Mrs de Gaulle to Valérie Trierweiler. It is a minefield for the First Lady. In the beginning they were potiches [trophy wives] and they still have no official role, no status.”
Mr Macron paid homage to his wife on the night of the first round of the elections. He invited her on stage and said: “She’s always there for me and I would not be myself without her”.
Mr and Mrs Macron are expected to further define her precise role in the coming weeks, but he answered critics who questioned the expense of an official First Lady role by saying she would not be paid by the taxpayer.
Speaking at an event on International Women’s Day, he said that Brigitte would, ‘not be in the background, not hidden’, adding: “She’ll be at my side, because she’s always been at my side.”
It is clear Mrs Macron is a strong character, but she will have to conquer her fear of flying if she is to be alongside her husband while he is on international duty.
Friends of the couple say their marriage is a happy one – and their relationship has stood the test of time, despite its unorthodox beginning, when Emmanuel was a teenager and his future wife in her early 40s.
She also enjoys plenty of goodwill from Mr Macron’s supporters, telling a crowd on March 8: “When we’re out in the street you’re there, telling me ‘go for it, we love you’. It’s hugely important to me.”
Mrs Macron, 64, took her first steps into the limelight with an interview with Paris Match in spring last year when her husband was still economy minister and had just launched his political movement En Marche!
She spoke of their close relationship and details of their private life, such as the fact they have a dog called Figaro.
Nicknamed ‘Bibi’, Mrs Macron passed a CAPES in teaching literature and spent her career first in Paris, then Strasbourg, then in Amiens at the private Catholic lycée La Providence, and then in Paris.
She met the young Emmanuel in Amiens, where she was teaching French and running a theatre club.
He started at the same time as her daughter Laurence.
They became close while adapting theatre scripts. According to Caroline Derrien and Candice Nedelec in Les Macron (Fayard) she was never Emmanuel’s class teacher and heard about him from Laurence who called him a ‘crazy’ boy who ‘knows everything about everything’.
Although Mrs Macron has said they ‘never had a physical relationship when he was a minor’, she was clearly much taken by him: Le Parisien spoke to former pupils of the school who said, ‘in class she was always quoting him. She was in awe of his writing talents and would read his poems out in front of everyone’.
Born Brigitte Trogneux, she comes from a well-off family known for generations as confectionary makers in Amiens, especially reputed for their macarons...
The youngest of six, she married aged 21 and had three children with banker André Louis Auzière, who respectively went on to be an engineer, cardiologist and barrister. She is grandmother to seven grandchildren.
The couple divorced in 2006, and in October 2007 Brigitte married Mr Macron, who at the time was working as an inspecteur des finances, a job he then left to work in Rothschild & Cie bank, before going into politics.
The couple’s unusual age gap has caused a stir, despite the fact that it is the same as that between Donald and Melania Trump.
She left teaching in 2015 to focus on supporting her husband’s political career. A spokesman for Mr Macron wrote in Huffington Post that the couple are ‘inseparable’ and she brings ‘comfort’ and ‘stability’.
According to Le Monde, who interviewed people close to the family, Mrs Macron would take part in meetings with her husband and his team at the Economy Ministry and occasionally received important guests in his place and organised dinners with celebrities to keep up their contacts list. Les Echos reports that she would proof-read his speeches and give him advice.
As First Lady, she wants to take a particular interest in education and improving young people’s opportunities, she told Paris Match.
However Le Monde said: “She knows that few president’s wives have been happy and that couples rarely survive at the Elysée. She has fought for her happiness and worries about what could trouble it.”