Walt Lands Exclusive Hollande Interview

With the media frenzy around French President Francois Hollande’s love life in January, OPC member Vivienne Walt landed Hollande’s first-ever international interview in the grand Élysée Palace. The interview was pegged to Hollande’s state visit to Washington D.C. in February. Walt sent the OPC the inside story.

As the day drew near for the interview with French President François Hollande, we wondered if the nervous Élysée officials might cancel, with the whole world’s press clamoring for gossip about his supposed affair with a French actress. In the end, they welcomed us in: me, Time’s editor-at-large Catherine Mayer, the acclaimed portrait photographer Marco Grob and Grob’s two assistants.

On Saturday morning January 25, the palace was empty. Hollande, a small man rattling around as the ultimate bachelor in this huge 300-year-old palace, was a gracious and patient host, sitting down for an hour’s chat in his office, where outsiders rarely venture, and then being led around the Élysée by Marco, who had turned the majestic landing into a portrait studio, with lights and a backdrop.

Within hours after the interview, Hollande released a statement saying that he and his companion, Valérie Trierweiler, had formally ended their relationship. Trierweiler, a journalist for Paris Match, had served as the de facto first lady.

To us, though, he would only say, “Private life is always, at certain moments, a challenge … In my situation, I cannot show anything.” But under his powder that a makeup artist had applied for the Time photo shoot, he blushed.

Hollande seemed to really enjoy being able to talk about serious things like the economy, Syria, and Obama, rather than his romantic entanglements. But that wasn’t going to last long! After four hours inside the Élysée, we stepped out to find a phalanx of TV satellite trucks broadcasting live about his love life.

Walt has reported from about 30 countries and is an award-winning foreign correspondent based in Paris. She has written for Time since 2003. Read the exclusive interview online >>