Segolene Royal Closer Bikini Photos

Photos of French Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal in a turquoise bikini have sparked major controversy in a country where politicians are still accustomed to a great deal of privacy.

Paparazzi photographs of Socialist presidential hopeful Segolene Royal in a turquoise bikini have raised eyebrows in Fra22nce and underlined the spread of celebrity culture into France’s traditionally sober political coverage. This week’s edition of celebrity magazine “Closer” included a cover picture of Royal on holiday in bathing suit, cap and sunglasses as part of a survey of “50 stars at the beach.” Its rival VSD followed up with a similar photo of Royal juxtaposed with a picture of Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative she may well face in next year’s presidential election, jogging on the beach over the headline: “Duel in the sun.”

The photos have sparked widespread radio and newspaper comment including a long article in the ultra-serious Le Monde.

Both politicians are shrewd at using the media to push their image as modern politicians ready to breathe life into France’s hidebound political system and both have faced accusations they place style and image over substance.

That has played into the agenda of a celebrity press devoted to the doings of actors, singers and other personalities referred to in France as “les people.” “Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy are the ‘people’ of the vacation season,” VSD deputy editor Marc Dolisi wrote in an editorial. “The public watches their smallest actions and gestures because they have used their private lives as a political weapon with such mastery.”

The comment is undoubtedly true but it may also have been aimed at warding off complaints about intrusion. The French media has traditionally been very discreet about covering politicians’ private lives, steering clear of sensitive issues and sparing them the relentless attention faced by their counterparts in countries like Britain. But the facade has started to crack. Former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin last year threatened legal action against Paris Match for unauthorized pictures of himself on holiday in bathing trunks.

Unmoved by flattering commentary on her figure in Closer (“And to think she’s 53!”), Royal herself initially considered taking legal action but eventually decided against it so as not to whip up even more interest in the issue. Le Monde’s cartoonist Plantu took a more jaundiced view, showing a bikini-clad Royal lying on the beach under a television camera and asking her partner, Socialist Party head Francois Hollande: “Can you rub a bit of cream in?”

The story is sparking tons of media coverage throughout Europe and the Middle East.

The Guardian: “Paparazzi photographs of presidential hopeful Ségolène Royal in a turquoise bikini have raised eyebrows in France and underlined the spread of celebrity culture into France’s traditionally sober political coverage.”

Gulf Daily News (Bahrain): “Bikini shots of Segolene Royal, the Socialist favourite for France’s presidential election – printed opposite snaps of her main rival jogging on a beach – have rattled the status quo in a country where politicians’ private lives have long been taboo.” They add that, “the Royal pictures – the first to show a French woman politician in small attire – seem to confirm politicians are now seen as fair quarry for the country’s gossip Press.” The reason it’s so controversial, they explain, is that , “Protected by the law – and a widespread aversion to intrusive tabloid methods – French politicians long managed to keep their extra-marital affairs and illegitimate children tightly under wraps. French communications expert Dominique Wolton said the bikini shots were a ‘dangerous drift’ towards British-style tabloid journalism but that France was ‘still a long way from the gutter Press’ seen across the Channel.”

That may be about to change. BBC reports,

Up until a couple of years ago, French leaders were protected from press intrusion by the country’s very strict privacy laws. A violation of privacy – atteinte à la vie privée – is a criminal offence punishable by a large fine. Some celebrities – such as members of the Monaco royal family – make a tidy sum every year from suing the press.

But recently two processes have gone hand-in-hand. On the one side, the market for “people” magazines in France has sky-rocketed. There are now more than half a dozen major weeklies – with names like VSD, Closer, Voici, Gala, Public – each printing up to half a million copies.

At the same time, with the April 2007 election looming, the two front-runners – Ms Royal and the right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy – have both made the same calculation that wooing the popular media is an unavoidable part of modern-day campaigning. Both have arranged for themselves lavish spreads in Paris Match and other glossies. Mr Sarkozy’s long-running marital problems with his wife Cecilia have become a soap opera, and their recent reconciliation was the occasion for a succession of happy-couple shoots. And Segolene Royal, 53, who underwent a major image change before launching her presidential bid – what the French call un relooking – has also shown every inclination to court coverage. That explains why her apparent anger at the latest paparazzi-pops rings pretty hollow.

The Times of London, also noting that “The magazine Closer was the first to break the unwritten rule banning pictures of female politicians in their swimwear,” expands on that aspect to the story:

Like her closest rival for next year’s presidential elections, the centre-right interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, she has skilfully exploited a sudden boom in “la presse people”, as celebrity magazines are known, even inviting photographers into the maternity ward after she gave birth to one of her children. It had the desired effect. In a poll for the magazine FHM, her countrymen voted Royal the sixth sexiest woman in the world.

Marc Dolisi, VSD’s editor, said Royal and her rival had themselves to blame for the coverage. “Royal and Sarkozy have both been happy to put their private lives on display when it suited them,” he said.

Segolene Royal Closer Bikini Photos All of this is rather odd from an American context, where the First Amendment has always protected this sort of thing. There is no small bit of irony, either, in the French getting all atwitter over a photo of a politician in a swimsuit given how much they lectured the sexy obsessed Americans for getting upset over Bill Clinton’s peccadilloes.

For the record, the Closer magazine cover in question is thumbnailed at right.

Gone Hollywood

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

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  5. Jim Henley says:

    I’d hit it. By way of comparison, I think Laura Bush is kind of hot, and even Hillary. Condi Rice used to do it for me, but I don’t think she’s aged gracefully.

  6. dm says:

    We only have to fear the massive censorship movement in the US. We lost the freedom of speech years ago through corporate control of the media and the FCC.