AFP - Eighty-three-year-old former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing has brightened his long retirement by writing a steamy romantic novel about a French leader's affair with a British princess.
"The Princess and the President" recounts the secret and passionate love of two characters clearly modelled closely on both Giscard himself and the late Diana, Princess of Wales, according to Monday's edition of the daily Le Figaro.
Recast as President Jacques-Henri Lambertye and Princess Patricia of Cardiff, the pair meet at the closing dinner of a G7 summit after the young British royal has been left miserable by her princely husband's adultery.
"I kissed her hand and she gave me a questioning look, her slate grey eyes widening as she tilted her head gently forward," the presidential first-person narrator recounts, according to an excerpt published in Le Figaro.
The newspaper said Giscard's book rises above the level of a well-written romantic novel because of the wealth of detail he is able to supply about the French and British characters and the palaces in which they meet.
As befits a member of the prestigious Academie Francaise, the president also alludes to the literary classics, such as Alexandre Dumas' tales of the love between French princess Anne of Austria and the Duke of Buckingham.
But the book will most likely cause a stir as the latest to cash in on the posthumous Diana publishing industry, particularly as it includes a playful hint that there might be an element of truth in the story.
According to Le Figaro, the book opens with the phrase "Promise kept" and ends with: "'You asked me for permission for you to write your story,' she told me. 'I give you it, but you must make me a promise ...'."
While marketed as a novel, there is little doubt that the characters are closely modelled on real life figures from recent history.
Princess Patricia shares Diana's passion for charity work with children with AIDS and campaigns as she did against anti-personnel mines.
"A fortnight before my marriage, my future husband told me that he had a mistress and was determined to continue his relationship with her," Patricia tells her French lover, according to the leaked extract.
President Lambertye also appears to be a close fit with Giscard, except for one key detail, one that suggests that the author is keen to reimagine history in a more flattering light.
While the fictional Lambertye wins a second term with a comfortable 56 percent, the real Giscard was turfed out of office in 1981 after being accused of corruptly receiving diamonds from Emperor Bokassa of Central Africa.
Giscard lost the vote in May 1981, costing him the chance of representing France two months later when Diana Spencer married Prince Charles, and thus the pair were never simultaneously the "Princess and the President".
Nevertheless, some commentators said that Giscard had left himself open to ridicule by penning a book even hinting at an affair -- he was 55 years old in 1981, Diana was 19. Some warned he risked tainting his legacy.
"How does he want posterity to remember him?" demanded the magazine Marianne on its website. "As the guy who legalised abortion? Who gave 18-year-olds the vote? Who brought female ministers into government?
"By talking about Diana, Giscard is remaking himself the great inventor of the celebrity presidency. A low-brow gossip president who needs the skills of a psychoanalyst to understand history," it stormed.
Diana died in a road accident with her boyfriend Dodi Fayed in Paris in August 1997. Her life and loves were a target of massive media attention both before and after her death, and books about her continue to sell extremely well.
The "Princess and the President" will be released in Paris in French on October 1 by publishers Fallois-Xo.