Good companions

Brigitte Macron agitated to be granted the title of Première Dame, hoping to emulate not Yvonne de Gaulle but Jackie Kennedy

The last person to be executed by firing squad in France was the air force officer, armourer and inventor Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry, whose ambush of the presidential Citroen DS failed to eliminate Charles de Gaulle at Petit Clamart on 22 August 1962. The plot, known by the name Charlotte Corday, had involved more than 150 conspirators. Even though the only injury anyone sustained in the attack was a shot in the hand, three members of the commando were sentenced to death. Two were then accorded presidential clemency.

Bastien-Thiry was a different case. He was not a mere mechanic, a shooter. He was an officer who believed, with some justification, that his target was a genocidal tyrant and a traitor to his country. Class came into it, as it always will in France. De Gaulle’s reasons for not commuting the sentence handed down on Bastien-Thiry varied from year to year. He supposedly remarked, for instance: “Let’s give them the martyr they want.” Sometimes he was bizarrely angered that non-French assailants had been hired. One reason, however, was constant: a gentleman does not endanger the wife of the president of the republic.

Yvonne de Gaulle, sitting beside her husband in the back of the car, was untouched. But her very presence turned Operation Charlotte Corday into a capital crime. She was deemed by her husband to be categorically different from the other people whom the shooters had managed to miss — the detectives, drivers, outriders, son-in-law, etc. Although she held no official secular position her blood, had it been shed, would have been the blue of the Tricolour by virtue of her marriage in the face of God to the president. That he was, according to F.D. Roosevelt and a million pieds noirs, a fanatic with fascist traits is irrelevant. With office, even when church and state are separate, there comes a sort of magic that is supposedly transferred to the other party in the union. (Applies only in supposedly monogamous cultures — and no one said it was sympathetic magic.)


It is apparently normal for the spouse to want that transfer sanctioned by statute, to crave grateful acknowledgement for showing up to group photoshoots, sporting sartorially inappropriate lanyards against the horror of non-recognition by security gorillas. She (seldom he) wants recognition for being dumped in the sandpit of soft “issues” where the implicitly misogynistic menu reads: caring about caring and about baking, consumer rights, pelmet workshops, school food outreaches, mime in education, rare plant awaydays and netball with a smile — all the while pretending to have a proper job or, increasingly likely, actually having one.

Brigitte Macron agitated to be granted the title of Première Dame. She was doubtless hoping to emulate not Yvonne de Gaulle but Jackie Kennedy, the point of reference for all such aspirants over more than half a century. Nothing doing, mush. The National Assembly, the Senate, those of Emmanuel Macron’s advisers who aren’t under police investigation and even the “people” press were joined in their scorn at her uppity impertinence. Her overt influence on her husband/ pupil has long been a cause of worry and jealousy.


A couple of months ago Stephen Glover wrote a piece in the Oldie about Matthew Symonds, one of his co-founders of the Independent, who has apparently been cutting him for quarter of a century. It was a rather touching billet-doux, a hardly dissembled plea for rapprochement which sucked up to Symonds by cataloguing his journalistic achievements and ended up with the intelligence that, on top of everything else, “he seems to have produced a remarkable daughter”.

Steady on. Does rubbing offal with an antinomian, boorish, cosmically embarrassing charlatan really make Glover’s mute former friend’s daughter “remarkable”? Reckless or shameless or gormless or opportunistic — any or all of these might be more apt. More than 30 years ago Tina Brown, on the money, described Boris Johnson as an “epic shit” after she had been on the receiving end of his mendacious malice. Given the shit’s pathological need to act in defiance of precedent he will endow his companion with a title. “First girlfriend” is too bland. “First totty” and “first crumpet” almost certainly figure in the shit’s idiolect but they might be reckoned too elitist to accord with the will of the people.

The essential quality required in the companion is the ability to turn a blind eye — to personal peccadilloes, monstrous policies, barefaced lies, casual cruelty, etc. Ostriches don’t really bury their head in the sand but that’s just a matter of detail. The First Ostrich. Tina Brown added: “I hope it ends badly for him.” The shooters must not err from their target. No collateral.

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