- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 9, 2012

PARIS (AP) - Only in France. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the superstar model-turned-songstress with a freewheeling lifestyle, now hands the job of first lady to a twice-divorced journalist who’s the first presidential partner to enter the Elysee Palace without a ring on her finger.

And as Valerie Trierweiler prepares for her new role alongside President-elect Francois Hollande, in the wings is the woman whose man she stole _ Segolene Royal, the mother of Hollande’s four children and a former presidential candidate now seeking her own seat of political power.

So what’s happening in the land of French officialdom, where protocol and social niceties still count? Will Trierweiler’s name be listed on formal invitations to presidential events, even though she’s not his spouse?

It’s the head of state who decides, so where’s the problem?

Intrigue, love lost, love found and power struggles accompanied the new first couple on their journey to the presidency, which Hollande takes over from Nicolas Sarkozy on May 15. The Hollande-Trierweiler couple gave each other a big kiss on the mouth at the victory fete watched by cheering thousands at the Bastille.

FOLLOWING CARLA‘S FOOTSTEPS

Bruni-Sarkozy, who married the outgoing president after he divorced his second wife while in office, adapted to the job of first lady like slipping into a silver slipper.

Past romantic adventures with Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton faded into distant memory and she cultivated a low profile as France’s “premiere dame,” charming and disarming other heads of state.

Some think Trierweiler may do even better.

Valerie is perfect. She’s so French,” Paris-based fashion writer Rebecca Voight insisted. “It’s what French women see in themselves. … She kept a respectful distance from Hollande during the campaign and also had her career, which people respect.”

Privilege describes the life, past and present, of Sarkozy’s Italian-born wife, who comes from a wealthy Turin family. Trierweiler’s roots are more humble. One of six children, she grew up in a modest neighborhood in Angers, in western France, then studied political science at the Sorbonne.

“I didn’t choose to have a public life. I chose Francois,” she said in an interview with Paris-Match in October. “But I will adapt.”

THE VALERIE-FRANCOIS STORY

Elegant and intelligent, Trierweiler, who has three teenage sons from her previous marriage to a colleague at the magazine Paris Match, is 10 years younger than the 57-year-old Hollande. She met Hollande years ago while covering the Socialist Party, which he headed for 11 years until 2008.

Their relationship flowered starting in 2005 as Hollande’s then-partner Royal was beginning to prepare her own presidential candidacy.

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