Brigitte Macron, the chosen shadow role of the first lady of France

If it doesn’t come to be because it was hand in hand with Emmanuel Macron to celebrate at the foot of the Eiffel Tower her husband’s victory as re-elected president of France, some might have been tempted to forget that Brigitte Macron is still there. Unlike in 2017, the French first lady has displayed extreme discretion in this last electoral campaign. She has been seen little and has been talked about even less. Something that is surprising in view of the great attention that she received five years ago, but that, deep down, is consistent with the very shadowy role she played during her husband’s first term.

In the background, but neither off nor out of focus. Because if she looks good, Brigitte Macron is always there, she is still Emmanuel’s beacon. She is the person to whom the president first addresses with his doubts — “I give him my opinion and then he does what he wants,” she has said — and his convictions, whom he looked at and kissed as soon as he learned of his new electoral victory on Last Sunday. That victory that will lead them to live another five years in the Elysee, in full view of everyone but, at the same time, jealously guarding her intimacy.

If the Macrons have shown off anything during the first five years, it is discretion. Until boredom. The Macrons came after two presidencies punctuated by personal scandals: the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012) divorced and remarried, with the model and singer Carla Bruni, during his term, and the socialist François Hollande (2012-17) left his partner, the journalist Valérie Trierweiler, when was caught leaving the Elysee on a motorcycle to see the one who is still his partner to this day, the actress Julie Gayet. Next to him, the current tenants of the Elysée make you want to yawn.

And that at the time caused juicy headlines. Starting by their unorthodox relationship: she, 24 years older than him, was his drama teacher when they met and fell in love, when he was 16 years old and was a classmate of Laurence, the middle of Brigitte’s three children. She was at the time married to a banker from Amiens whom she would end up divorcing to follow Emmanuel, whom she married in 2007, to Paris. A decade later, they were aware that, whether they wanted to or not, and regardless of the fact that they have been together all their lives (in his case, almost literally), their relationship he was going to be fodder for the press of all colors if he stood for election. So they chose to take the first step themselves: advised by the once almighty paparazzi chief Mimi Marchandoffered covers intended to satisfy the curiosity they provoked, such as one of her in a swimsuit walking along the beach in paris match.

But the Emmanuel Macron who was running for a new mandate is no longer the Emmanuel Macron of five years ago, when he presented himself as a fresh young promise wanting to change everything. Now he is the first president who has managed to be re-elected for the first time in 20 years – after a very short campaign and with very few rallies, another reason why his wife has been seen so little – and who arrives with all the ballast of his first government. There will be no change, because they have been living in the Elysée for five years, and there will not be, in that sense, a foreseeable new change. And his wife already knows what awaits him.

“The French have not chosen me”

“I have learned not to talk openly about anything, anywhere and at any time, which for me is a colossal effort, because I talk a lot. Everything I say, or what I don’t say, can be picked up and interpreted”, she recounted in an interview with Madam Figaro at the end of January, when the presidential campaign had not yet taken off.

The key to her discretion was given, however, in a later reflection: “I am the wife of the President of the Republic, who is the President of all French people. The French have not chosen me, and I am perfectly aware of this. It is my task to find my place and help where I canin the field of health, culture, education, especially”, explained this retired professor of literature, who celebrated her 69th birthday on April 13, in the middle of the second round of the presidential elections.

Perhaps things — and Brigitte Macron’s role — would have been different if her husband had achieved his goal of giving France’s first lady a status and budget of its own. But he had to back down in view of the popular rejection that the proposal generateddespite the interest aroused by this petite woman, always dressed in the latest fashion and defying any comment about her age (and there were many).

So the first lady had to carve out a space where they left her and how they left her, which is not insignificant either: she has her own wing of the Elysee and a small team that accompanies her everywhere, even on those outings “to the street” that she likes so much to take, she says, the pulse of the people and that she later tells her husband.

Beyond his tasks as companion to the president —he has received 71 wives (and husbands) of heads of state and government—, in these five years, his team told Agence France Presse, he has received 100,000 letters and emails from all France. He has visited 63 hospitals and 55 schools (and baptized a panda), not always surrounded by press. Since 2019, she has headed the Hospitals Foundation, which until then was chaired by another former first lady, Bernadette Chirac. That same year, she created, with the luxury group LVMH —which usually dresses her, like her husband’s victory night— a school for adults where he usually teaches literature courses. As revealed by another first lady, the Ukrainian Olena Zelenska, Brigitte Macron was also key in the efforts to evacuate sick children to other countries when the war broke out from Ukraine. Of course, as always, discreetly.

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Brigitte Macron, the chosen shadow role of the first lady of France