Greeting King Abdullah II of Jordan at the Elysee Palace in Paris on March 29, Brigitte Macron was – as fashion sites raved – stylish and impossibly well groomed, from her signature blowout to her shift dress and killer heels.
Beside her, equally sophisticated, her French President husband Emmanuel Macron kissed the hand of Queen Rania. Between them, the Macrons looked the epitome of glossy, worldly chic.
But beneath the cultivated public appearances, there’s a controversial fact the couple can’t escape: That their relationship started when she was a married mother of three and he was her high school student.
Much has already been written about the generation-spanning romance between Emmanuel Macron, 41, and Brigitte, 66.
Now the “taboo-breaking” history and dynamics of the Macrons love life are back in the headlines, thanks to a book released this week.
In Il Venait d’Avoir Dix-Sept Ans (He Had Just Turned 17), journalist Sylvie Bommer draws parallels between Brigitte’s favourite novel, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, (about a woman stifled by a joyless marriage) and her life-changing romance.
“I wanted to understand how a woman from the provincial petite bourgeoisie, educated by nuns, had the incredible audacity to defy her family and popular morality to make a second life with a man 24 years younger,” Ms Bommer said.
Mrs Macron said in 2017 about leaving her first husband for the future president, “If I hadn’t made this choice, my life would have passed me by”.
He Had Just Turned 17 describes how Brigittte met Emmanuel at the Jesuit school in Amiens where she worked.
She had been married to banker André Auzière for nearly 20 years. He was a 16-year-old in the same class as her daughter Laurence.
Sparks flew, and when the young Mr Macron joined her drama club, “Every Friday I went to write a play with her for several hours,” he later said.
“We spoke about everything. And I discovered we had always known one another.”
Not so enamoured were Mr Macron’s doctor parents Francoise and Jean-Michel Macron.
“I told myself it would pass,” his father told journalist Anne Fulda in a previous book, 2017’s Emmanuel Macron: Such A Perfect Young Man.
In a tense confrontation, the Macrons told Brigitte to end the affair.
“You already have your life, [but] he won’t have children,” Francoise is said to have told the teacher, who sobbed she “could not promise anything”.
The Macrons “swiftly packed him off to Paris”, according to the new book.
But the relationship continued. Mr Macron reportedly blames failing a prestigious university’s entrance exam two years running on being “too much in love to revise”.
While establishing her relationship with Emmanuel, Brigitte had children – son Sebastien, now 44, and daughters Laurence, 42, and Tiphaine, 35 – to raise.
“I was with my mother during the week and with my dad at the weekend while Mum went to see Emmanuel,” Tiphaine has said.
A year after her divorce from Mr Auzière in 2006, Brigitte wed Mr Macron in the same beachside town hall where she married first time around 33 years earlier.
These days, Mrs Macron is less Emma Bovary and more France’s “Kate Middleton”, Ms Bommel wrote, saying everything from her Louis Vuitton sneakers to her breakfast of “two kiwis and a cup of tea” is analysed on Instagram fan pages.
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First Lady Brigitte looked elegant in Louis Vuitton as she and President Macron attended a private dinner with President Xi Jinping at the Kerylos Villa in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France — March 24, 2019 #brigittemacron #brigittetrogneux #firstlady #frenchfirstlady #premieredame #frenchstyle #emmanuelmacron #louisvuitton 📸 via Purepeople
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But it is still her enduring love story that fascinates most.