The headline in the celebrity magazine Closer
said: “And to think that she’s 53!” French socialist politician Segolene
Royal (pictured in the blue bikini on the cover below) actually doesn’t turn 53 until next month, but even so she is a
fine advertisement for the theory that French women look after their
appearance. Readers of yesterday’s Australian were able to see the shots of her on the beach in a bikini that Closer published.

thought of Australia’s 50-something politicians (of either sex) in a
colour spread in similar attire is much less appealing. But there’s
more to it than that, because France has a much stronger tradition than
Australia of protecting the privacy of its celebrities. Royal says
she does not want to give the photos extra publicity by taking legal
action, but French law would clearly entitle her to sue for breach of

But Royal is one of a new breed of French politicians
who have learnt to exploit the mass media. Her glamorous image has
helped make her frontrunner for the Socialist Party nomination for next
year’s presidential election, and the BBC rightly says that “her
apparent anger at the latest paparazzi-pops rings pretty hollow.”
Indeed, it is hard to resist the suspicion that she or her advisers had
some hand in their publication.

Royal is more than just a pretty
face; she is clearly a politician of substance, and a voice of
modernisation for the often-doctrinaire French Socialist Party. Many
activists suspect her for that reason – she has, for example, spoken of
her admiration for Tony Blair. But the Socialists have been out of
office long enough to embrace whatever is needed: as Le Figaro
quotes the party secretary in Pas de Calais, “The activists want
victory for the left in 2007 at any price, and since Segolene is the
only one who seems able to beat [centre-right candidate Nicolas]
Sarkozy, they are rallying behind her.”

The Socialists will
choose their candidate in November, when Royal’s rivals could include
former prime ministers Lionel Jospin and Laurent Fabius, and maybe even
her own de facto husband, party secretary Francois Hollande.