A recent New York Times headline bore this lead sentence: “As heads of state go, this one appears to be quite expensive.”
It was referring to the fact that French President Francois Hollande’s personal hairdresser has been paid more than $10,000 / 9,850 € (euros) per month since M. Hollande was elected in 2012. When this was reported recently in the weekly satirical paper Le Canard Enchaîné, the president reportedly was furious – claiming he was unaware his barber’s compensation is roughly the same as a government minister’s salary.
That and much more flies in the face of Socialist M. Hollande’s promise, when campaigning for his present office, that he would be a “normal” and exemplary president. Promises to significantly lower unemployment have been unmet; A government plan to alter labor laws – making it easier for employers to rid themselves of unwanted or unneeded workers, along with other loosening of labor laws – was met with months of protests across the country; and, among other things, M. Hollande’s far-from-normal entanglements with a series of women have repeatedly led the nation’s news reports.
The Times said “the new controversy — the hashtag #CoiffeurGate, “coiffeur” being French for hairdresser, was a trending topic on Twitter on Wednesday — could contribute to the image as a president who is out of touch.”
The paper further noted that M. Hollande is certainly not the first politician to encounter problems with hairdressing. In 1993, two runways at Los Angeles International Airport were shut down for two hours so then-President Bill Clinton’s Beverly Hills hairstylist could come aboard Air Force One to give him a trim. In 2007, John Edwards, a former senator, had to reimburse his presidential campaign $800 to cover the cost of two haircuts. The Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin spent tens of thousands of dollars on hair and makeup in the homestretch of her 2008 campaign.
In France, opposition center-right and far-right parties were, unsurprisingly, critical of Mr. Hollande, and while reactions in his own party were more muted, some struck a harsher tone.
“That’s a lot of money for a hairdresser, and for the French in general,” Thierry Mandon, the junior minister for higher education and research, told the LCP news channel. “For many people in France that really, really, really is a lot of money.”
Still, the revelations have yet to morph into a full-blown political scandal in France, where the financial excesses or abuses of politicians are sometimes met with a shrug. On Twitter, French observers expressed a mixture of amusement and outrage.
“When my 2,600 euros of income tax represent one week of the hairdresser’s salary #CoiffeurGate #shameful,” one user wrote. “#CoiffeurGate — ah, now I finally understand the expression ‘budgetary cuts,’” mused another. Some photoshopped royal wigs, mullets or toupées onto the French president’s sparsely adorned head.
The hairdresser, identified by Le Canard Enchaîné only as Olivier B., was first mentioned in a book by two French journalists published in April that aimed to give a behind-the-scenes look at the Élysée Palace, the presidential residence.
The book identified the hairdresser as Olivier Benhamou, and said that his monthly salary was 8,000 euros. When the tabloid magazine Closer wrote an article using that information, Mr. Benhamou sued them; that case is pending.
The work contract Mr. Benhamou signed with the Élysée Palace was recently introduced as evidence in a French court as part of that case, and was obtained by Le Canard Enchaîné, which used it as the basis of its report.