France's President In-Waiting Fell in Love At Sweet 16

France's President In-Waiting Fell in Love At Sweet 16
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Published May 1st, 2017 - 16:12 GMT via

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They met. He was 16, she was 39.
They met. He was 16, she was 39.

On the first night of a play at an exclusive French Catholic school in Amiens, there was one obvious star. He was Emmanuel Macron, the son of two respected local doctors, and the 16-year-old was adored by staff for his work and intelligence.

One teacher beaming with admiration that night was a glamorous 39-year-old called Brigitte Auziere. Married with three children, she taught at Lycee La Providence, 90 miles north of Paris, where  pupils can expect the finest pastoral care.

The teacher and her pupil had collaborated on the play — the Art Of Comedy, by the Italian writer Eduardo De Filippo — every Friday night for months at the school, adapting it for all the students who wanted parts.

They would work on the script late into the night. Neither had far to go home — the teacher to a house she shared nearby with her banker husband and children, while the pupil walked the short distance to his parents’ home in an affluent part of  Amiens.

It was only when the play was finally staged, in front of proud parents and family, that a glimpse emerged of what was the start of a love affair between Emmanuel and Brigitte.

For, as the audience clapped before the curtain came down, Emmanuel took a bow and kissed the watching Madame Auziere on each cheek as she smiled with obvious delight. ‘Every Friday I went to write a play with her for several hours,’ the schoolboy later revealed. ‘We spoke about everything. And I discovered we had always known one another.’

As for Brigitte, whose eldest daughter Laurence — incredibly — was in the same class as Emmanuel, she was captivated by his ‘exceptional intelligence’. She felt he was so gifted that it was as though ‘I was working with Mozart’.

She even quizzed her daughter about her classmate, who told her he was bookish but engaging and charming, a man who ‘knows everything’ and seemed much older than his years.

The first sign other pupils had that the relationship was more than academic came during the play’s closing party at a local restaurant, with one contemporary watching as the pair shared what he described, cryptically, as a ‘tender moment’.

Almost 24 years later, this unlikely romance made global headlines this week when pupil and teacher, now husband and wife, celebrated victory in the first round of the French elections.

Now, Macron faces a head-to-head contest for the Presidency with Marine Le Pen, who was — until she resigned from the party a few days ago — leader of the far-right Front  National.

On a stage in Paris on Sunday night, Macron turned to thank his wife, who has given up teaching to help his campaign, and told her: ‘Always there, and what’s more, without whom I wouldn’t be me.’

After that speech, he and Brigitte headed for the historic La Rotonde restaurant, where they celebrated until the early hours of Monday.

There, the oddity of his family was evident as the 39-year-old and his wife, now 64, hosted a party for close supporters, with champagne and oysters served on ice. With them under the Art Deco chandeliers were Brigitte’s three children, one of whom, son Sebastien, is two years older than his stepfather.

Intriguingly, also present at the party was Macron’s mother, Francoise, 67, who is only three years older than her daughter-in-law, and who was, understandably, bitterly opposed to her son’s relationship with his teacher at the start.

Indeed, the prospect of such a close gathering seemed unlikely when the schoolboy and his teacher began their unconventional romance.

Local gossip about the ‘close friendship’ between Emmanuel and the teacher had spread after they were spotted walking home from school together after working on the play.

Brigitte was always quick to praise Emmanuel. ‘She was captivated by his writing talents,’ one friend said. ‘He wrote poems and she read them out in front of everyone.’

Macron’s parents — a neurologist and a paediatrician — were not happy on hearing these rumours.

Hoping it was just a passing teenage obsession, they decided to bide their time. But their suspicions intensified when Emmanuel told them he was going to see a friend in Amiens — only for them to discover he had spent time with Mme Auziere  again.

They hoped he would start a relationship with a girl of their acquaintance who was his own age, whose parents were also doctors and friends with  the Macrons, and even invited her over to the family home, where Emmanuel lived with his younger brother and sister.

‘I told myself it would pass,’ his father Jean-Michel Macron told the respected journalist Anne Fulda, who has just published an explosive new French book about the affair — Emmanuel Macron: Such A Perfect Young Man. ‘Emmanuel did, after all, have studies to finish — to not ruin  everything.’

But he showed no interest in the girl to whom they had introduced him, or in any of his teenage contemporaries.

Soon afterwards, Emannuel’s mother raised with her son the delicate issue of his relationship, concerned that he would never be able to have children due to the age gap. ‘We couldn’t believe it,’ she told one interviewer. ‘What is clear is that when Emmanuel met Brigitte we couldn’t just say: “That’s great.” ’

According to the new book, Macron’s parents decided to confront Brigitte and tell her to end the affair — or at least wait until their son was 18.

At this uncomfortable meeting in Amiens, Francoise told Brigitte: ‘You already have your life, [but] he won’t have children.’ In tears, the teacher — the youngest daughter of a wealthy, respected family of chocolatiers and confectioners — sobbed that she ‘could not promise anything’.

At their wits’ end, and concerned that the relationship would ruin his schooling, Emmanuel’s parents took drastic action — and effectively sent their son away to keep he and Brigitte apart.

The boy’s father telephoned the headmistress of a prestigious school in Paris called the Henry IV, and explained that he had a matter of great sensitivity to discuss, which would require absolute discretion.

According to sources at the school, the headmistress agreed that Emmanuel could finish his schooling there and prepare for university in Paris, where he was to live in a flat owned by his family. At the same time, Mr and Mrs Macron decided not to complain to the police about the teacher’s relationship with their son. The age of consent is 15, but 18 for those involved with teachers or carers.

In making this decision they were perhaps mindful of  the story of an infamous affair between a teacher and her pupil.

Gabrielle Russier, 32, a professor of literature, was jailed in December 1968 for one year after she began an affair with a 16-year-old pupil called Christian Rossi, and Mr Rossi’s parents went to the police when they found out about the relationship.

In 1969, out of jail and awaiting further legal proceedings, Mrs Russier gassed herself. ‘We loved each other,’ a tearful Mr Rossi said. ‘They put her in prison, she killed herself. Passion isn’t lucid.’

Yet the schemes of Emmanuel Macron’s parents were to end in failure — and the romance continued after the teenager moved to Paris. He would take the 90-minute train home to Amiens each weekend, and tried to arrange secretly to meet Brigitte when she wasn’t looking after her three young children.

Andre-Louis Auziere, Brigitte’s husband, worked long hours for an international French bank. Brigitte and Emmanuel would meet at one of her wealthy family’s homes, and the two were once discovered chatting round a swimming pool by Brigitte’s brother. Emmanuel’s new friends soon heard that he had been involved in a ‘scandal’. Cecile Falcon, 39, studied with him in Paris. ‘I knew [about the affair] from when he moved to Paris,’ she told the Mail.

‘We knew he was with his teacher but we didn’t know where [the school was], her age, her name. He was very discreet.’

Emmanuel’s troubles were nothing compared to those of Brigitte. The indulged youngest of six, she was born in 1953 into the Trogneux family, who for six generations had run their confectionery business in northern France.

They made their fortune selling macaroons; sweet treats made from almonds, honey and egg whites. Her father was a pillar of respectability, a regular churchgoer and a member of the local rotary club. Young Brigitte was a fun-loving, artistic child, who privately dreaded the thought of working in the family firm and spending her life selling macaroons. Instead, she loved literature and the arts.

During a trip to the seaside town of Le Touquet, where her family had a holiday home, she met an exotic man called Andre-Louis Auziere, who was born in Cameroon, the French colony in west Africa, where his father worked as a diplomat.

He had returned to France to study and had started what would prove a successful career in banking, which would later see him hold senior executive positions. At 23, he was two years older than Brigitte, who was still a student.

Brigitte, 21, and Andre married in the local town hall in 1974, the same year that Emmanuel’s parents were married, and by the time she was 26 she had three young children. She wanted for nothing financially.

By all accounts, family life was pleasant enough. In 1984, the couple moved with their children from Amiens to Strasbourg, when Andre got a promotion. They returned to Amiens in 1991, when, with the children now at school, Brigitte began teaching at La Providence.

By the time Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron had become emotionally entangled, and he had been dispatched to Paris, attempts to keep the news of the friendship quiet had proven impossible.

According to one account, Brigitte’s elder brother, who had taken over the family business after their father died, furiously warned her off.

What her husband made of this is not clear: to this day, he has never spoken about the events that tore his family apart. All that is known is that Brigitte and Andre were formally divorced in 2006.

Sylvie Bommel, a French journalist who has carried out investigations into the Macrons, says that Brigitte’s former husband was so scarred by the break-up that he did not even attend his mother’s funeral in case his ex-wife came.

‘He’s a man who no longer wants to be found after what happened,’ she told me. ‘It must have been a real shock to see your wife leave for someone very young.’

Brigitte moved to Paris before the divorce was finalised, where she took up a teaching position at another Catholic school, meaning she could be closer to Macron.

‘I think Brigitte left to escape the gossip,’ said one former colleague. ‘Both Macron and Brigitte leaving was the best solution.

By the time their son was 18, Emmanuel’s mother and father had given up trying to persuade him to find someone his age.

Indeed, less than 21 months after her divorce was granted, Brigitte wore a short white dress to wed for a second time at the same town hall in Le Touquet where she married her first husband. She was 54; her groom, 29.

After their wedding in 2007, the couple — who call each other by the pet names ‘Manu’ and ‘Bibi’ — now live in Paris. After a career as a banker and an economic minister, Macron announced his intention only last year to stand as a candidate in the elections.

Surprisingly, Macron is on good terms with his ‘step-children’, including Laurence, the girl with whom he shared a class. Even more galling for ex-husband Andre-Louis Auziere, his younger daughter Tiphaine, 30, now works as a campaign manager for Macron. She says ‘they get on so beautifully their age difference has never caused me a problem’.

So will any of this peculiarly French affair damage the candidate described as the country’s equivalent of Tony Blair? There has always been a laissez-faire approach here to the sexual antics of politicians.

Francois Hollande, the current President, was separated from his partner, Valerie Trierweiler, after being caught having an affair with an actress 18 years his junior, while his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy famously ditched his wife to marry model-turned-singer Carla Bruni.

Emmanuel Macron’s English teacher from his school in Paris, Christian Monjou, who remains a mentor, believes his decision to continue the relationship with Brigitte made him the man he is today. ‘He wanted to prove to his parents that he had made the right choices,’ he told the Mail. ‘And he’s now proving to his wife that she made the correct decision to leave her husband.’

But M. Monjou warned that Emmanuel must not appear to voters as a ‘mummy’s boy’; after his victory speech he invited Brigitte on stage, only for someone to say: ‘You would have never seen [Charles] de Gaulle do that.’

Certainly, Macron has no regrets about his teenaged coup de foudre. In a social media exchange with voters this week, he was asked by a student for his advice after ‘falling for my criminal law teacher’.

With a smug smile, Macron responded: ‘You need to know if it is mutual. If that is the case, go for it! No taboos!’ Time will soon tell if the people of France agree.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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