When Penelope Fillon was interviewed by Kim Willshire, a bilingual British journalist living in France, she could be nothing but 100% honest. She never would have dreamed anything like this would happen because of it.
As an Englishman living in France, I’ve been following the Fillon affair with a lot of interest. François Fillon claims that he’s being attacked viciously by the left and that he his a victim of a plot to oust him from the presidential elections. This may or may not be true, and many French people are saying “A qui profit le crime ?” (“Who stands to gain ?”).
But to look into who started all this would be to be sidetracked by the real issue at hand. Did Penelope Fillon earn nearly 1 million euros while not doing much (if any) work at all as a parliamentary assistant to her husband and then his replacement when he was Prime Minister?
The answer, for a multitude of reasons, is yes. The proof is abundant, and not necessarily from the lack of documentary evidence that the independent French judiciary system are so diligently looking for.
She said so…in English
The main reason why she’s guilty is because she has publicly admitted to not being an assistant and working in politics. In English, her native language. She held an interview, by herself, with a British journalist, Kim Wilshire, living in France around the time her husband got chosen as Prime Minister by Nicolas Sarkozy (not elected – the elected President chooses his Prime Minister after the legislative elections in France). You can watch the video below.
Two languages – two personalities
Now as a British expat like Penelope, who has lived here in France a long time like Penelope, there are things I can see in this interview that perhaps others can’t.
When you’ve lived in France for a long time, and you are surrounded by French people, and you are married to a French person, and your children speak French more than they speak English, then it’s normal that you want to identify with and get a long with another British person in France a lot quicker than you normally would with a French person.
As a British expat, whoever we are, we know that the way we speak, the way we behave, sometimes even the way we look, makes us different. It has been mused many times that bilingual people have different personalities in the different languages they speak. Usually, the second language, the language we have to learn, makes us less confident, less funny, more introverted, less inclined to stick up for ourselves.
So when the original personality comes out after perhaps months and months of being in the closet, when the brain doesn’t have to think quite so hard to be understood or be found funny, then it’s obvious that you’ll probably say more than you’re supposed to. And this is clearly the case for Penelope in this interview. She turned up for what she hoped would be an informal interview with someone who is British like her but lives in France. To reinforce the point, the journalist said she was surprised that Penelope turned up alone without any security or PR advisor.
But it is so surprising when you’re being suffocated 24/7 with French political heavyweight problems such as dealing with dignitaries and diplomats and crises and pressure and stress that she wanted to get away from it all for a while and be herself?
She admitted as much when speaking in French here. She’s used to being in the shadows. You can see her body language when speaking in French (both on the microphone but also in other clips) is totally different then when she is speaking intimately in English in the first video. If she were born French, she would still probably be “shy and discreet”, as the presenter describes, but not as much as being an Englishwoman in France.
So it is for these reasons that this “instant connection” with the British journalist probably made it impossible for Penelope’s brain to be anything else other than honest. Why would she want to lie when she can be herself? It would almost be a betrayal to her own identity, a betrayal to the Penelope that finally had a chance to be herself for once in public, albeit in a more secluded setting.
She was honest and open. She talked about the fact she wanted to do something for herself (go to University), that she helped out from time to time but had never been her husband’s assistant, that she would have got a job if she had never had their fifth child, it’s all there if you watch and listen…
She won’t speak
Another problem with this whole saga is that we haven’t heard from Penelope herself yet. She hasn’t said one word. She’s the one being accused of not doing any work, and yet we have only heard from her husband.
And if I were to speculate, it’s probably because she had always told her husband that if she were to be getting so much money, then if ever the shit hit the fan, then he’d have to deal with the mess himself. She has maintained that she didn’t ask for the political life she received, and she certainly didn’t ask for this lynching.
Even while François was Prime Minister, we rarely saw Penelope. She doesn’t covet the limelight. She’s probably contemplating leaving France right now and running away, such is her horror at her name being put through the mud.
It is easy to say “Oh boo hoo, poor little rich girl living in a castle is now in trouble because she earned a million euros without lifting a finger”. But I strongly doubt she had any choice in the matter. I’m sure François had already made the decision before telling her about it.
I can imagine the conversation right at the beginning:
“I’m going to put you on the payroll, Penelope”.
“Because there is a budget for it and we’re allowed to hire members of our family”.
“But I don’t want to be your assistant, I’ve got the children to look after as you’re never here.”.
“You won’t have to be, but we might as well make use of the money, and everyone else is doing it. Otherwise it will go to waste.”
“But what happens if there’s an audit or something?”
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll handle it”.
“You’d better. Don’t expect me to lie if there is a problem”.
So yes, in my view Penelope Fillon is legally guilty for earning money under false pretences. But the pretences weren’t of her making, and I’m sure she’d rather give it all back rather than have to live her life under such a cloud. Being the first possible British First Lady is making it all the harder for her.
What do you think?