Ex-first lady embraces glamorous new role

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AP

In this photo provided by Action Contre la Faim, Valerie Trierweiler, the ex-first lady of French President Francois Hollande, holds a child during a charity visit for NGO Action against Hunger in Mumbai, India. Picture: Bk Vilas; Action contre la Faim

Paris - After losing her title as France's first lady, Valerie Trierweiler has begun forging a new role as a goodwill ambassador, with her glamour and media savvy guaranteeing her maximum publicity on a charity trip to India.

Only hours after President Francois Hollande announced the couple were separating, Trierweiler boarded a plane in Paris for a two-day visit to Mumbai that saw her chat with sick children in hospital and see how some of India's poorest people eke out a living in an overcrowded slum.

While polls showed the 48-year-old was the most unpopular first lady in recent French history, her work on behalf of the French charity Action Contre La Faim (Action Against Hunger) has generated some welcome front-page publicity both for herself and her organisation.

In an echo of the coverage that Britain's Princess Diana generated as a self-styled 'Queen of Hearts' after divorcing Prince Charles, Trierweiler was snapped cradling an ailing child and tasting a nutritional supplement.

“Former French First Lady finds separation balm in charity work,” said the Times of India daily while a picture of a smiling and elegant Trierweiler dominated the front-page of the Indian Express.

The 48-year-old, who is still employed as an arts writer by the French magazine Paris Match, appeared to be well aware of her capacity to generate publicity for a good cause.

“I would like to thank the French journalists for showing so much interest in malnutrition,” she said in tongue-in-cheek comments to a crowded press conference on Monday, when she told her erstwhile colleagues that it was her third trip to India.

“I came here for the first time as a journalist, the second as a first lady and the third time - well call it what you want,” she added.

Ashwini Kakkar, head of the Fight Hunger Foundation (the local offshoot of Action Against Hunger), said that the publicity generated by Trierweiler had been a great way of raising the organisation's profile.

“This is a big plus for us,” Kakkar told AFP.

“She has brought us a lot and is committed to continue supporting us as best she can in the fight against hunger and malnutrition.”

During a visit to India with Hollande last year, Trierweiler also spent time at a shelter for street children in New Delhi and spoke of her desire to become a champion of children's rights.

The late princess Diana, Bianca Jagger and Jemima Khan have all demonstrated over the years how to generate publicity for a good cause long after splitting from their famous husbands - with benefits for all parties.

Rajesh Chaturvedi, chairman of Adfactors, one of India's largest public relations firms, said the press were fascinated by Trierweiler not only because she is an “attractive lady” but also because her separation gave her visit a “newsy angle”.

But Chaturvedi said the choice of her cause was also a key to understanding why she could command column inches in India.

In dealing with malnutrition, she picked a topic “close to millions of hearts in India” Chaturvedi said.

“Today we may not realise it, but going forward to build a healthy society we need healthy people,” he told AFP.

A recent poll in France found only eight percent of respondents opted for Trierweiler when asked who was their favourite first lady - well behind the 28 percent rating for her predecessor Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

While Nicolas Sarkozy's wife is now modelling for the jewellery firm Bulgari, Trierweiler appears to feel comfortable in her new role.

“I'm feeling very good about being here,” she said of her visit to Mumbai. “I wouldn't have missed it for the world.”

Hollande announced to AFP on Saturday that he was splitting from Trierweiler, his partner of eight years, following intense media scrutiny over his relationship with French actress Julie Gayet, 41.

The break-up followed revelations a fortnight ago in Closer magazine that the 59-year-old leader had been having an affair with Gayet, whom he allegedly visited late at night on a motor scooter.

Trierweiler, a twice-married career journalist, never married Hollande but assumed the role of first lady at official functions after his election in 2012. - AFP


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