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French President Francois Hollande promised on Tuesday to clarify whether his live-in girlfriend, his alleged mistress, or no one at all, is the First Lady of France before a February visit to the White House.

Late last week, a French magazine added some credence to a long-simmering rumor that the French leader was having an affair with actress Julie Gayet, news that apparently sent Hollande's long-time girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler to the hospital suffering from exhaustion. Although the president has not commented directly on his alleged involvement with Gayet, Hollande refused to affirm that Trierweiler (who lives with Hollande in the president's home) is still the First Lady when asked directly by a reporter.

Instead, he said that “private affairs should remain private." He added, "everyone in their personal life can face trials. This is our case. These are painful moments." Hollande said he would address the subject in more detail at a later date, before his scheduled state visit to the White House on February 11th. If Trierweiler is still the First Lady, she'd probably accompany Hollande on that visit. 

On Friday, the French magazine Closer published photographs that reportedly showed Hollande and Gayet arriving separately at a swanky Paris apartment. Hollande stayed the night at the apartment, according to the report. His bodyguard was photographed bringing croissants to the flat the next morning. The Hollande administration threatened to sue the publication following the report. But Hollande hasn't denied the allegations of the affair. 

As the AFP explains, the story only picked up steam in the French press after it became clear that Hollande's relationship with Trierweiler might actually be in jeopardy over the reports. There was also the rumor, since dismissed by the administration, that the apartment Hollande and Gayet allegedly used might have ties to the Corsican mafia. That being said, about 77 percent of the French public agree with Hollande that the matter is private, according to a poll conducted by the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur . Eighty-four percent of French voters indicated that the affair wouldn't change their public opinion of the president. 

Trierweiler was a political journalist before Hollande's election as president in 2012. Hollande has never married, but Treirweiler has very clearly served as the First Lady — a largely ceremonial job in the country — since her partner took office. Her own popularity in France is mixed. Hollande left Ségolème Royal, his partner of over two decades and the mother of his four children, for Treirweiler, by 2007. Royal, of course is also a prominent politician in the country. She was the presidential nominee for the Socialist party in 2007, an election she lost to Nicolas Sarkozy. French publications seem to like Royal a lot better than Treirweiler, and tend to paint Treirweiler as the villain of the two women. Meanwhile Hollande, who campaigned as a "Monsieur Normal" in contrast to former President Sarkozy's personally and professionally dramatic tenure, is so far escaping with little damage from the affair to his image. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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