How Macron, the boy who preferred the company of adults, became president of France

Screen grab from "Macron, la strategie du météore" (France 3 documentary)

As a boy, Emmanuel Macron was preternaturally smart, self-assured and seemed to prefer spending time with adults instead of kids his own age. These traits underscored his most significant relationships and helped propel him to the presidency.


His arms outstretched, fingers clenched, his boyish face basking in the spotlight, a young Macron lets out a dramatic sigh, prolonging every second of undiluted audience attention before launching into his lines.

The video clip of a 15-year-old Macron performing in a school play may have grainy visuals and scratchy sound. But the home movie is a harbinger of the phenomenon to come, like watching the making of a storm of sorts that would one day strike France with sudden speed and intensity.

In many ways, that May 1993 production of Jean Tardieu’s “La comédie du langage” (The Language of Comedy) marked the public start of what was to become the Macron phenomenon.

For starters, the play was the product of a theatre workshop at La Providence Jesuit high school in the northern French city of Amiens, where Macron met his future wife.

It was pure theatre – in real life and onstage. Brigitte Trogneux, Macron’s drama teacher, was 24 years older than him, married, and with children.

“He played a scarecrow, I remember that very, very well. And I found him incredible in this scene, what a presence,” recalled Trogneux in the documentary, “Macron, a Meteor's Strategy.”

At 15, Macron fell in love with his 39-year-old drama teacher, whose three children included a daughter his own age.

It was the sort of romantic plot novelists would adopt only with trepidation. But life can be stranger than fiction and Macron at a very early age had a preternatural sense of his own destiny -- matched by a determination to get what he wanted.

Like Trogneux, for instance. Before leaving Amiens at 17 to complete his studies in Paris, Macron informed his drama teacher that one day he would marry her.

In 2007 -- 14 years after they first met -- Macron married Trogneux, who had since divorced her husband. It had taken dogged determination, overcoming first her resistance, then his family’s disapproval before reaching a stage where he could finally marry Trogneux – after asking her children for their mother’s hand in marriage.

“It’s a powerful act because not everyone would have bothered to come and ask us for her hand in marriage,” Trogneux’s daughter, Tiphaine Auziere, told CNN.

‘He was not a teenager’

Born in Amiens to a physician mother and a neurologist father, Macron was an extremely intelligent student. One of his most influential childhood figures was his maternal grandmother, Manette, who was also a teacher. Macron has told several journalists that it was Manette who introduced him to leftist ideals and instilled in him a lifelong passion for books.

As a teenager and young adult, Macron was always hanging around older people – having dinners with his teachers, avoiding the advances of girls his own age, according to his former classmates.

“He was not like the others. Most definitely, he was not like the others. He was always with the teachers, he was always discussing issues with the teachers. He had books, always a lot of books. He was not a teenager. He had a rapport with adults – teachers, school directors – he had an equal relationship with them,” explained Trogneux in the France 3 documentary.

A mentor sees ‘the stuff of presidents’

That affinity for older people saw him establishing a close bond with Jacques Attali, a prominent French economic and social theorist who had served as advisor to former French President François Mitterrand.

Macron encountered Attali after graduating in 2004 from ENA (l'Ecole Nationale d’Administration), one of the country’s most prestigious grandes écoles and a breeding ground for future French presidents.

That’s when he joined France’s General Inspectorate of Finance and was appointed deputy rapporteur of a bipartisan commission, chaired by Attali, to foster French economic growth.

Attali would play a critical role in opening a new chapter in Macron’s life, one that would earn him wealth, increase his grasp of the global financial system, but also earn him the opprobrium of the section of the French left that views bankers as villains.

Armed with a recommendation by Attali, Macron joined Rothschild & CIE Banque, an investment bank owned by Rothschild & Co. The young Macron rose rapidly up the bank’s ranks to become a managing partner -- and a millionaire in the process.

By then, he had married Trogneux in the northern French town of Touquet and had established what many would call a hyperactive life, juggling a high-stress job with sports such as tennis and cycling, as well as playing the piano. A prize-winning pianist with a Masters in philosophy – including an association with French philosopher Paul Ricoeur -- Macron so impressed Attali that the older Frenchman famously declared his protégé had “the stuff of presidents”.

‘Mozart of the Elysée’

But life in the private sector, no matter how remunerative, could not hold the restless Macron’s interest for long and so, in May 2012, he was appointed deputy secretary-general at the Elysée presidential palace -- a senior role in President François Hollande’s staff. A complete unknown on the national scene, the young Macron was quickly dubbed the “Mozart of the Elysée” by the French press.

Two years later, at the age of 37, he was appointed France’s youngest-ever economy minister, replacing Arnaud Montebourg.

In his new post as economy minister, Macron was responsible for pushing through a pro-business labour reform package that earned him the undying wrath of France’s hardline trade unions and their far-left supporters.

But the ambitious young economy minister didn’t stay in that job for long. In August 2015, the maverick politician announced that he had left the ruling Socialist Party and was, from now on, an independent.

A year later, when he launched his En Marche! (Onward) political movement, his chutzpah was severely criticised by the establishment on the left. But Macron apparently had read the political tea leaves and seen what that left-wing establishment was unwilling to confront: that the age of established parties, especially the unpopular ruling Socialist Party, was over.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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