It was a passionate but hidden love. The president of the French Republic and the Princess of Cardiff had no choice.
"The Princess and the President" recounts the ballet of secrecy led by a man of power and a royal beauty watched by the world — whom the novel's author, former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, says is Lady Di.
But who was the inspiration for the hero?
The book is a bold venture for the 83-year-old Giscard d'Estaing whose stiff, pompous "au revoir" to the nation upon his defeat to Francois Mitterrand in 1981 remains the stuff of comedy routines.
A member of the prestigious Academie Francaise, the watchdog of the French language, Giscard d'Estaing has written books in the past, like the weighty "The State of France" or three tomes on "Power and Life." His new creation, in bookstores Thursday, has taken everyone aback.
"Diana-Giscard. And If It Were True," reads the headline of an article in the glossy magazine Paris Match whose cover features the two standing in gown and tux at a state affair in 1994 at the Chateau of Versailles, their arms touching.
Fact or fiction?
Is art imitating life in the work by Giscard d'Estaing, who like many other French leaders maintained a reputation as a womanizer? The former president resolves half the mystery in an interview published Thursday.
He confirms that Princess Patricia of Cardiff is, indeed, modeled after the Princess of Wales. He also says that he and Princess Diana discussed his writing a love story revolving around a world leader. Their last conversation on the subject, in June 1997, came six weeks before her death in a car accident in Paris with her lover Dodi Fayed. The book's dedication reads: "Promise kept ..."
"I considered it a promise I had to fulfill," Giscard was quoted as saying in the newsweekly Le Point. However, he maintains the enigma about who might have inspired the other half of the couple.
Patricia is "a celebrated beauty" whose changing blue eyes are framed in a face tilted forward. Her husband, the crown prince, keeps a mistress and she frankly admits to her need to be loved, and her passion for her causes, such as anti-personnel mines — for which the Princess of Wales became a symbol.
The president, Jacques-Henri Lambertye, is, unlike Giscard d'Estaing, a widower who serves two terms in office. But like Giscard, he is tall and thin and as seen in some photos unbuttons the fourth small button on his jacket sleeves, "not indifferent to the fashion tendencies of the moment."
A love story
The princess and the president first meet in London at a G-8 summit of the leaders of the world's most industrialized countries. Months later, he covertly but boldly takes her hand, under a luncheon table of dignitaries that include the U.S. president, on a train from Normandy to Paris following D-Day ceremonies.
In the style of romance novels, the affair unravels slowly amid meticulous descriptions of royal palaces and presidential residences and a fashionista's attention to clothes. Tension over the risk of getting caught is ever-present. The reader must wait until page 66 of the 265-page book for the first kiss.
The love affair is consummated in trysts in Kensington Palace, which was Diana's residence, as well as the chateau of Rambouillet where Lambertye hunts, and on the Riviera among other places.
"This is a novel in which Princess Diana is the main figure," Giscard d'Estaing told Le Point. "I wanted to pay homage by bringing her to life again" and correcting the image of a princess he believed was misrepresented in the press. "I invented the facts," he said.
However, Giscard d'Estaing maintains the ambiguity about their relationship. He said he saw her in London three months after their first meeting — like the story says — "and afterward, we saw each other numerous times."
Asked about the nature of their relationship, the former French leader says only: "Let us not exaggerate. I knew her a bit in a climate of a confidential relationship. She needed to communicate."
Giscard said he considered using a pseudonym but was warned the author's identity would be quickly uncovered.
In any event, "With time, I feel more and more free," the ex-president told Le Point.