‘Odd Couple’ in Paris: Madonna and the Premier

Times Staff Writer

Can the popularity of Madonna turn around the fortunes of Jacques Chirac? The French premier has been trying for weeks now to bask a little in the adulation for the rock star, and political pundits--a little but not wholly with tongue in cheek--think he may have picked up some youthful votes.

Chirac, pictured in most Saturday newspapers hugging Madonna, takes credit for persuading a reluctant suburban mayor to allow her to hold an outdoor concert for 100,000 fans in a park Saturday night on her world “Who’s That Girl?” tour. “Who’s That Girl?” is the title of her latest album and movie.

Relentless in his admiration, Chirac, in the last few days, also waved Madonna’s latest album before hundreds of applauding young members of his conservative Gaullist Party, appeared on a rock radio station to announce a 50% cut in the huge sales tax on records, and, in his role as mayor of Paris, threw a party for Madonna at City Hall.

The 54-year-old Chirac, a tall, stiff man often described as aggressive and arrogant, seems an unlikely rock fan. Nor has he been regarded as a politician close to youth.

Student Protests Mishandled

In fact, his clumsy handling of university student demonstrations at the end of 1986 produced a national crisis that crushed his popularity in national polls. He has never fully recovered. Polls now show that almost any prominent politician on the left or right could defeat him in next year’s presidential election.


Most analysts credit his 24-year-old daughter, Claude, for his recent reach for rock and youth. She says she persuaded him to intercede with the conservative mayor of suburban Sceaux who had objected to the concert out of fear that the 100,000 fans would tear up the park.

“Like a lot of young people, I like Madonna very much,” she said. “I took daddy aside and made him listen to my records and watch my videos. I told him we risked losing a musical event of great importance.”

Some journalists have reported that this intercession did not matter. The elected departmental council that controls the park had already overruled the mayor and approved the concert. But most fans still believe that Chirac made the decisive phone call.

Chirac hosted the Friday night reception for Madonna at his private apartment in the Paris City Hall. Madonna donated $85,000 for AIDS research, and Chirac told her in English, “Everybody likes you very, very much.” She replied, “I like you, too.” Chirac then hugged her in front of French photographers. The caption under the photo in the chic Paris tabloid Liberation said, “Who’s that girl at the side of the gentleman?”

‘That Girl is Jacques Chirac’

Liberation could hardly contain its glee at finding the premier in the aura of Madonna. One article on Chiracian politics began, in English, “Who’s that boy?” An editorial about the confusion of rock and politics asked, in English, “Who’s that girl?” and replied, in English, “That girl is Jacques Chirac.”

Some Socialists were a little snide in their comments about Chirac’s embrace of Madonna and rock. “I thought Mr. Chirac only liked military music,” said Jack Lang, the former minister of culture. “When will we see Mr. Chirac wearing boots and an earring?” The Socialist newspaper Le Matin began its story, “Santa Madonna, Jacques Chirac has discovered rock ‘n’ roll.” Some Socialists, however, obviously resented their failure to figure out a way to latch on to Madonna first.

There was a limit, however, to the leeway Chirac could give to his new bent. Other government duties prevented him from attending Madonna’s rock concert in Sceaux. He had to fly to Canada to begin a five-day state visit.

“After Madonna,” a Liberation headline reported wistfully, “Canada.”