The cute little girl with a pudding bowl haircut sitting on her mother’s knee is Brigitte Trogneux.
Her family are renowned chocolatiers and confectioners in the Amiens region of northern France where the upmarket Trogneux brand is as well-known as, say, Thorntons is in Britain.
But the family — or rather the youngster in the photograph — has another, much greater claim, to fame today.
The black-and-white Trogneux family portrait, featuring her parents and siblings, was taken back in the 1950s.
The claim initially went unnoticed when the small monthly publication went to press with the results of its so-called ‘three-year investigation’ into Mrs Macron in September
Could anyone, least of all Brigitte herself, have imagined that more than half-a-century on it would be used in a smear campaign to destroy her by the far-Right?
Even by their poisonous standards the latest conspiracy theory aimed at undermining Mrs Macron in the run-up to the French presidential election in April, when her husband will be pitted against two Right-wing populists, plumbs new depths.
The false claim made by far-Right magazine Faits et Documents (Facts & Documents) is that Brigitte Macron, 68, was born male.
The claim initially went unnoticed when the small monthly publication went to press with the results of its so-called ‘three-year investigation’ into Mrs Macron in September.
But when ‘correspondent’ Natasha Rey — who contributes to the journal and has a history of attacking the Macrons on Facebook — gave an interview on YouTube earlier this month, the allegations went viral online.
In the interview, she referred to the old Trogneux family photograph. The little girl sitting on her mother’s knee, she claimed, is probably Natalie Farcy, who was orphaned when Brigitte’s older sister, Maryvonne, was killed in a car crash, along with her husband, Paul Farcy, when Brigitte was very young.
The dirty tricks campaign against the Macrons illustrates how easily fiction can be turned into fact with just a few clicks and a hashtag in today’s world
And Brigitte? Her birth name, she claimed, was Jean-Michel Trogneux — the boy in the checked shirt in the photograph — before ‘he’ became a transgender woman and underwent a sex change operation in the early 1980s.
You couldn’t make it up, could you?
Almost immediately the ‘story’ began circulating widely on social media under the hashtag #JeanMichelTrogneux.
Websites associated with the far-Right, anti-vaxxers, the Yellow Vests anti-government movement and QAnon extremists, who believe the US is in the grip of devil-worshipping child abusers, spread the false claims.
The attack on Mrs Macron has led to fears of the ‘trumpization’ of political debate in France, with fake news being used to potentially sway voters, particularly by the far-Right who already enjoy widespread popular support.
Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, a rebranding of Le Pen’s National Front, secured a first-place finish in France in the last European election and Eric Zemmour, who uses the language of Enoch Powell, has been riding high in the polls; both will challenge Macron in the upcoming presidential election.
The attack on Mrs Macron has led to fears of the ‘trumpization’ of political debate in France, with fake news being used to potentially sway voters, particularly by the far-Right who already enjoy widespread popular support
The ‘trigger’ for the pseudo-investigation in Faits et Documents — ‘The Mystery of Brigitte Macron’ — was her ‘physique’, according to Miss Rey, who claimed that ‘experts’, including cosmetic surgeons, ‘all agree with me that [Brigitte Macron] is a transsexual’.
Ludicrous, maybe, but a YouGov survey this year found that a greater proportion of French and American people were likely to believe conspiracy theories (38 and 33 per cent respectively) than their British counterparts (19 per cent).
The dirty tricks campaign against the Macrons illustrates how easily fiction can be turned into fact with just a few clicks and a hashtag in today’s world.
Our own research suggests that the ‘boy in the checked shirt’ the far-Right claim is Brigitte is possibly her late older brother Jean-Claude. He was eight years older than Brigitte and became manager of the family chocolate factory.
Birth certificates in France, unlike the UK, can only be obtained by the person whose name is on the certificate or a relative of that person.
But the arrival of Brigitte Macron in the world was published in the Courrier Picard, daily newspaper of the Picardy region of which Amiens, her home city, is the capital, which records her birth on April 13 1953.
Referring to Brigitte’s three sisters and two brothers, it reads: ‘Anne-Marie, Jean-Claude, Maryvonne, Monique and Jean-Michel Trogneux have great joy in announcing the arrival of their little sister, Brigitte.’
The Faits et Documents magazine says Elysee officials ‘had been unable to provide a photograph of Brigitte as a child’.
We found numerous in reputable French publications including a seven-year-old Brigitte taking her first Holy Communion, not to mention one of her playing in the garden of her home as well as all in white on her wedding day, with her first (late) husband, wealthy banker Andre-Louis Auziere.
Before she entered the Elysee Palace in 2017 as the wife of the youngest president in French history — she was 64, he was 39 — Mrs Macron, a former teacher, told her pupils: ‘You’ll hear remarks, true and false. I’ll never talk about them.’
She is making an exception in this case, however, and is taking ‘legal action’ for libel against the instigators of the claims in Faits et Documents, her lawyer Jean Ennochi confirmed this week.
Yet the story of Brigitte Macron is fascinating in its own right and not without scandal.
She first met Emmanuel Macron in September 1992. She was 39, a married mother-of-three, and a teacher at the French Catholic school in Amiens. He was 14 and a pupil in the same class as one of her daughters.
The cute little girl with a pudding bowl haircut sitting on her mother’s knee is Brigitte Trogneux. Her family are renowned chocolatiers and confectioners in the Amiens region of northern France where the upmarket Trogneux brand is as well-known as, say, Thorntons is in Britain
Their 24-year age gap still draws gasps, except in France where the allure of the older woman has long been celebrated.
Mrs Macron, who has been compared to Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve, regularly graces the cover of Paris Match and other celebrity magazines. So much for being ‘born male’.
Throughout their 14-year marriage, she has played a key role in his political career, ‘somewhere between a spin doctor and eminence grise’, to quote one commentator.
But back in Amiens, their developing friendship all those years ago, caused outrage locally.
Brigitte’s family ran the confectionery shop in Place Notre Dame, in the centre of Amiens, now the flagship branch of the Trogneux chain which has 12 other branches across northern France.
Their speciality was macarons, sweet treats made from almonds, honey and egg whites.
Her father was a pillar of respectability, a regular church-goer and a member of the Rotary Club.
His daughter attended the Sacred Heart convent school; everyone knew her since she was a child and watched her growing up as the youngest of six siblings.
Her family called her the ‘happy little Princess’. ‘It suited her perfectly — she was a lovely little girl who was always the centre of attention,’ said a family friend.
Another Amiens resident who knows the family well added: ‘She was always getting wonderful presents and being treated like a princess. She was a real little girl who liked to dress up and put on her mother’s jewellery.
‘She used to be given silver bracelets and the like from her parents. When she passed her exams, they got her a moped.’
At the age of 21, on a trip to the seaside town of Le Touquet, where her family had a holiday home, she met Andre-Louis Auziere, who was born in Cameroon, where his father worked as a diplomat.
At 23, he was two years older than Brigitte, who was still a student, and had embarked on what proved to be a successful career in banking.
They were duly married in the local town hall in 1974, the same year Emmanuel Macron’s parents were married, incidentally.
By the time Brigitte was 26, two girls and a boy had arrived.
Despite these easily checked, verifiable facts, the Faits et Documents magazine has persisted with its scurrilous ‘she was born a male’ narrative, which has attracted a huge online audience in the same way that similar lies about Michelle Obama being a man did in the US. What no one disputes is that Brigitte would eventually get a teaching post at Lycee La Providence Catholic school in Amiens.
One of the classes she took was drama. The star pupil was Emmanuel Macron, whose mother and father were doctors.
Both sets of parents were dismayed by the rumours that they were having an affair. The teenage Emmanuel was sent away to Paris to complete his education. But their relationship continued at a distance for 13 years and the rest, as they say, is history.
‘There are times in your life when you need to make vital choices,’ Mrs Macron would explain in an interview many years later.
‘And for me, that was it. What has been said over the past 20 years is insignificant. Of course, we have breakfast together, me and my wrinkles, him with his youth, but it’s like that.’
There were no public sightings of Brigitte’s first husband after she left him in 1996 and he died in December 2019, aged 66.
Their son Sebastien Auziere, who at 46 is just two years older than 44-year-old Emmanuel Macron (his step-father), now works for him as a statistician.
Their youngest daughter Tiphaine, 37, has publicly supported the relationship. ‘If I have to give a vision of love, it’s Emmanuel and Mummy,’ she said in an interview in 2018. Their oldest daughter Laurence, 44, was in the same class as Emmanuel at school in Amiens where Brigitte was a teacher.
It’s not hard to understand why, given the circumstances, their father kept such a low profile.
France’s biggest selling newspaper, Le Figaro, has denounced the attack on Brigitte Macron as ‘false transphobic information’ based on ‘absurd rumours’, while rival newspaper Le Monde said the claims are the work of ‘conspiracists’.
Nevertheless, the kind of world we now live in, means that many people across France and elsewhere will be utterly convinced they are true.
The proof France’s First Lady WASN’T born a man