At least in his own fevered imagination, the former President of France, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, was quite the ladies’ man.
Taller than most of his compatriots, and invariably dressed in the snappiest suits, he devoted a hefty portion of his seven years in the Elysee Palace to pursuing various women who entered his orbit.
Despite being married to a minor aristocrat, Anne-Aymone de Brantes, with whom he had four children, ‘VGE’ developed a ferocious appetite for young actresses.
Former French president Valery Giscard D’Estaing, left, who died this week, was linked to a string of glamorous women, though one of his most high profile could have been Princess Diana, right
Rumoured conquests during his reign included the erotic actress Sylvia Kristel, who made her name in the soft-porn film Emmanuelle, and the elfin photographer Marie-Laure de Decker. A couple of months after winning the Presidency, in September 1974, he was even said to have crashed a friend’s Ferrari into a milk float while driving through central Paris in the early hours.
A report in the satirical magazine Le Canard Enchaine alleged he’d been in the company of a smouldering young woman. Though this was denied, France’s electorate seemed to vigorously approve: his poll ratings soared.
Thereafter, Giscard d’Estaing — who died this week aged 94 — always left a sealed envelope with aides detailing his location in case of emergency on the occasions when he decided to disappear for nocturnal shenanigans.
He also developed a curious obsession with Princess Diana. One evening in 1995, the 34-year-old English rose found herself seated next to the former President during a charity fundraiser at the Palace of Versailles. Shortly afterwards, d’Estaing wrote a bizarre public love letter to her in a French magazine.
One of his conquests was the actress Syliva Kristel, known for her 1974 role in the soft porn classic Emmanuelle
‘You may think she is good-looking in photos, but she is much prettier in reality,’ it read. ‘When she spoke, she lifted her eyes toward me, those immense blue eyes. That’s when I discovered she was also a cat, a feline. She moves without noise.’
In his article, d’Estaing compared Diana to a mythical breed of English girls with whom all French boys are said to fall madly in love with during teenage visits to Britain to improve their English.
‘The English girl they fall in love with has soft blonde hair, very fresh, pale rose skin and eyes where they discover innocence and love. They don’t realise it, but they’ve all fallen in love with Lady Di,’ he wrote.
Later that year, when Diana gave her notorious Panorama interview detailing the breakdown of her marriage, he made sure to send her a congratulatory card. It ended: ‘You are the most intelligent woman in the British Isles.’
On the night, in 1997, when the Princess was killed in a car crash, the first bunch of flowers to arrive at the Paris hospital where she was taken was from d’Estaing.
In December 1952, d’Estaing, left, married Anne-Aymone Sauvage de Brante, pictured right
Yet it was his spectacular arrogance that most scandalised his contemporaries. D’Estaing accorded to himself the royal prerogative of being served first during meals at the Elysee Palace. When no other head of state was present at an official dinner, he had the chair facing him removed so he would not have to look into eyes less exalted than his own.
If his children accompanied him on foreign trips, he insisted that they ranked in the pecking order of protocol above his ministers. And when he went skiing in the French Alps, he refused to queue for the lifts and instead had himself whisked to the top of the mountains by private helicopter.
D’Estaing also arranged for a detachment of the 3,000-strong Garde Republicaine, which until then had only ever been seen in Paris, to accompany him wherever he went in France — wearing uniforms that he had redesigned.
It ultimately took a splendidly-mucky financial scandal, in which he was accused of corruptly receiving diamonds from Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Republic, for him to be finally booted out of office in 1981. Thereafter, he devoted retirement to the lucrative business of being a political grandee, joining l’Academie Francaise and serving a term as a well-remunerated member of the European Parliament.
D’Estaing also had an affair with the renowned French photographer Marie-Laure de Decker
His ultimate ambition was, as the late Mail correspondent Ross Benson put it, ‘to create a United States of Europe, with France at its political epicentre — and himself, naturellement, as president’.
Though he fell short of this lofty aim, the humble-born son of a civil servant (who allegedly adopted the ‘d’Estaing’ portion of his surname to make his pedigree look more aristocratic) did succeed in securing a well-paid sinecure as an MEP for his mistress and former parliamentary attache Christine de Veyrac, with whom he’d fathered an illegitimate son.
The 1997 death of Diana — who was 35 years his junior — put to bed any chance, however fleeting, that she might one day fall victim to his romantic charms. But that didn’t stop the lecherous old statesman from dreaming about how their relationship might have ended differently. To this end, in September 2009, aged 83, he published a steamy romantic novel about a French leader’s affair with a British Princess.
Called The Princess And The President it followed one ‘President Jacques-Henri Lambertye’, who meets ‘Princess Patricia of Cardiff’ (an ill-disguised Princess of Wales) at the closing dinner of a G7 summit after the young British royal has been left miserable by her princely husband’s adultery.
‘I kissed her hand and she gave me a questioning look, her slate grey eyes widening as she tilted her head gently forward,’ the presidential narrator recounts.
In the book, Patricia shares Diana’s passion for children’s charities, Aids awareness and campaigns against anti-personnel mines. She also shares gory details of her failed marriage, telling the narrator: ‘A fortnight before my marriage, my future husband told me that he had a mistress and was determined to continue his relationship with her.’
The President makes his (successful) move to seduce her while on an official train back from commemorating the D-day landings. Their passion is further consummated at the Chateau de Rambouillet, where Giscard often held presidential hunts. They also enjoy bedroom gymnastics at Kensington Palace.
The novel’s publication caused a short, sharp scandal, with widespread speculation that it detailed a real affair. Le Figaro newspaper asked: ‘Total fiction, writer’s dream [or] true story? Only the author has the key to this enigma.’
D’Estaing, pictured during WWII, continued to chase women into his 80s
However a week later, d’Estaing sheepishly admitted that he’d made most of it up. ‘Let’s not exaggerate anything… I fabricated the facts but not the places or the settings,’ he told a weekly magazine.
The book flopped. But in defiance of his receding hairline and wrinkled brow, he continued to chase women long into his 90s.
Just two years ago, prosecutors opened an inquiry after a German TV reporter claimed that d’Estaing had sexually assaulted her when she visited his office to conduct an interview about the late German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Ann-Kathrin Stracke, 37, alleged that ‘the former president wrapped his arms around me, touched my waist, and placed his hand on my buttock,’ after being asked to pose for a souvenir photo. After she failed to remove his wandering hands ‘several times and with all my strength,’ Ms Stracke was eventually saved by an enterprising cameraman who tried to create a diversion by first overturning a lamp and then placing a chair between the reporter and her assailant. D’Estaing denied the allegations.
His death, from complications of Covid, was met with a raft of tributes. The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said she was mourning ‘a great European who will continue to inspire us.’ Nicolas Sarkozy said he ‘made France proud’.
Doubtless those tributes were heartfelt. But the women who crossed paths with this lecherous old statesman would be entitled to disagree.