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Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

February 05, 2007

When Irish eyes smiled for Ségolène

This site has now moved to Salut!

Picture: politiquecafe.
She struggles to impress in her campaign to become France's first woman president. But Ségolène Royal will at least have seen one recent article that was not calculated to leave her in a steaming rage or cringing with embarrassment.

Rare among the thousands of words written and uttered about Ségo in the past fortnight or more, these were unequivocally positive - telling of her pleasant nature, intelligence and humour.

Paris Match told the story of the young Ségolène as au pair girl, back in 1971 when she was a beautiful, vivacious teenager needing a bit of English practice.

Ségo was not parked in a leafy suburban town in Surrey, or at the London town house of the sort of people who drive Chelsea tractors and have children called Gideon and Arabella. She was sent to Dublin.

What she made of any Guinness or rebel songs she encountered is not known, so far as I am aware. But she did leave a deep and favourable impact on the Irish family whose lives she briefly shared.

Ségolène, or Marie-Ségolène as she was still known as a girl of not quite 18, followed in the footsteps of another French au pair, Armelle, who had evidently been made a sterner stuff.

The change of home help produced a change of atmosphere that was enough for the freckled Roche children - Graziella, John and Peter - to think Mary Poppins had replaced Mademoiselle Cruella.

That may be well unfair on Armelle, though I do recall the surliness of one or two French girls who stayed with us when my daughters were small.

Marie-Ségolène, in any event, was a breath of fresh air for the Roche kids and their large gang of friends, baking everyone cakes, drawing with Graziella or taking her to pony riding lessons and chasing butterflies.

Young Peter remembers her dark blue Bermuda shorts. He was only five but perhaps already had an eye for the feminine charms that have, for no good reason if we are honest, done Ségo little harm in her rise to prominence.

There was also a swattish side to the au pair. The observant Peter retains a vision of Ségo writing copiously in an exercise book, one page after another, as the children watched television.

A meal-time photograph of au pair and young charges accompanies the Paris match report. "She may have been brought up severely," the children's mother, Renate, tells the magazine in a reference to the austere, disciplined regime of Colonel Jacques Royal's household. "But just look at the picture of peace around the table - that sums up her sojourn with us."

I started by giving Paris Match the credit. But let me end by being fair to the man who really brought this interesting little episode of Ségo's life to wider attention.

John Lichfield, the excellent and convivial Paris correspondent of The Independent, heard about the Irish connection from a Dublin lawyer, Sheena Beale.

Sheena met and befriended Ségolène when both were on holiday in Normandy as 16-year-olds. She was out of the country when her French pal arrived as an au pair but put her in touch with friends and relatives.

John then discovered that the Roche children's late father had been best man at the wedding of his own parents-in-law, themselves Dubliners.

Sheena described her Marie-Ségolène as a "strikingly beautiful girl with long, dark hair - I thought she looked like Sophia Loren". The French girl was "great fun to be with but very focused, very determined...I never imagined that she would go into politics but it doesn't surprise me that she has gone so far."

Unlike Paris Match, John found that Renate Roche - now remarried and called Webster - had no recollection of the future presidential candidate among several French au pairs.

Whatever the magazine's envoyé special did to jog her memory for his report entitled Une Baby-sitter nommèe Marie-Ségolène, it's a reasonable bet that Renate will be taking a more personal interest in the progress of the battle for the Elysée.

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This site has now moved to Salut!


At February 05, 2007 4:51 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Colin, of course, has always had a soft spot for a beautiful au pair...

At February 05, 2007 9:21 PM, Blogger Halcyon said...

Interesting story! Your blog entry has also saved me the time of having to actually read the article myself. I find reading in French so tedious.

At February 06, 2007 5:07 PM, Blogger richard of orléans said...

Nice story. It reminds me of when I was a child. Our village was always full of French aupairs and exchange students with whom we played all summer long.It was my first dégustation of something better than roast beef ordinaire.


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