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France's next first lady could be former law student from South Wales

Published 28/11/2016

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She was a South Wales law student who moved to France and met one of the rising young stars of Gallic politics.

Now Penelope Fillon, 61, from the Monmouthshire town of Abergavenny, could become France's next first lady if her husband Francois is elected president in next year's election.

Mrs Fillon studied French to A-level at the King Henry VIII grammar school in Abergavenny before attending university in London.

She met her future husband while studying in Le Mans in the 1970s and they married in 1980.

Her former French teacher, Alan Breeze, described her as an A grade A-level student.

Mr Breeze, 74, a former Monmouthshire councillor, said: "She was very intelligent, very thoughtful - a really good student.

"She was a grade A French student and she went on to study French at university.

"I have seen her twice since. She is still the same, unassuming, she doesn't put herself forward at all.

"There is a great sense of pride in Abergavenny. Penny was a local girl and a really nice family.

"I knew her father Colin very, very well, he was so proud of his son-in-law Francois and he used to bring me in cuttings from the French press.

"Glenys, Colin's wife, was a lovely, lovely lady."

Mr Breeze has also met Mr Fillon at a Wales v France rugby match and at civic engagements in France.

"Francois is a very intelligent person who knows a lot about what is going on in the world and has very interesting views," Mr Breeze said.

"He was a genuine person. I have nothing but praise for Penny and Francois for what they are doing.

"He is favourite to become French president but you never know because you have got Marine Le Pen and the French could vote for her."

Mr Breeze would not be drawn on Mr Fillon's conservative political views and added: "I am not going to poke my nose into French politics."

Mrs Fillon is used to the political limelight as her husband served as prime minister of France between 2007 and 2012 under the premiership of Nicolas Sarkozy.

They have five children together - Marie, Charles, Antoine, Edouard and teenager Arnaud - and could in 2017 be the next residents of the Elysee Palace.

Mrs Fillon was one of five children of local solicitor Colin Clarke and his wife Glenys. Mrs Fillon's sister Jane is married to Mr Fillon's brother Pierre, an eye surgeon.

Mr Fillon was selected as the centre-right's candidate after beating Alain Juppe in a run-off for the nomination.

His success now makes him, in the eyes of many pundits, the frontrunner to become president next May.

Current opinion polls suggest that far-right leader Marine Le Pen would win the first round of voting in the presidential election in April but would lose a run-off to her opponent.

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