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Coronavirus: Ex-French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing dies aged 94

Former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who was rumoured to have had an affair with Princess Diana, has died with coronavirus aged 94 – just six months after sexual assault allegations were made against him.

He was admitted to the Georges Pompidou hospital in Paris in September because of a 'slight infection in the lungs', according to the Europe 1 radio station, before dying in a cardiology ward in Tours. 

The family then confirmed in a statement that Mr Giscard d'Estaing's 'state of health had worsened and he died as a consequence of Covid-19', adding that his funeral would be a very private event. 

Commonly known as Giscard, or VGE, he was head of state between 1974 and 1981, and he was best known in the UK for having an alleged affair with Diana after they met at official and charity arrangements. 

Born in 1926, Mr Giscard d'Estaing served in the Free French army that helped liberate France during World War Two and was named finance minister by Charles de Gaulle at just 36.  

France's leader from 1974 to 1981, Mr Giscard d'Estaing presided over a modernisation of French society, allowing divorce by mutual consent, legalising abortion and lowering the voting age to 18 years from 21. As a Europhile, he helped forge a single Europe together with his ally, German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. 

The former head of state made one of his last public appearances on September 30 last year for the funeral of another former president, Jacques Chirac, who had been his prime minister. 

In May, Mr Giscard d'Estaing was accused of touching Ann-Kathrin Stracke, a 37-year-old reporter with the German public broadcaster WDR, intimately and without her consent. Ms Stracke had waived her right to anonymity in the reporting of the sex assault complaint, which was sent to Paris prosecutors in March.

In turn, a spokesman for Mr Giscard d'Estaing said he had 'no memory of his meeting' with Ms Stracke. It was on December 18, 2018, that Ms Stracke had an appointment with the retired politician at his office in central Paris.

The interview was on the 100th anniversary of the birth of former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who was a world leader at the same time as Mr Giscard d'Estaing.  

Former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who was rumoured to have had an affair with Princess Diana, has died at the age of 94. He was admitted to the Georges Pompidou hospital in Paris in September because of a 'slight infection in the lungs,' according to the Europe 1 radio station, before dying in a cardiology ward in Tours

Commonly known as Giscard, or VGE, he was head of state between 1974 and 1981, and he was best known in the UK for having an alleged affair with Princess Diana after they met at official and charity arrangements 

France's leader from 1974 to 1981, Mr Giscard d'Estaing presided over a modernisation of French society, allowing divorce by mutual consent, legalising abortion and lowering the voting age to 18 years from 21

Valery Giscard d'Estaing meeting his socialist successor Francois Mitterrand in 1981

Valery Giscard d'Estaing delivers a speech during the Fifth 'Parti Republicain' party conference in Vincennes in June 1982

Mr Giscard d'Estaing is famous in the UK for his alleged affair with Princess Diana. After she became a global celebrity, the pair are said to have become close after meeting at official and charity engagements.

In 2009 Mr Giscard d'Estaing wrote a romance novel called 'The Princess and the President'. It was about an affair between a French president and a thinly veiled British royal – Patricia, Princess of Cardiff, or 'Lady Pat'. 

At the time, there was intense speculation in the French media that Mr Giscard d'Estaing was describing a tryst with Princess Diana in the 1980s. Mr Giscard d'Estaing was in office in 1981, when Diana married Prince Charles, and they regularly met at official and charity engagements.

The novel's epigraph read 'Promise kept', and at the end Patricia says: 'You asked my permission to write your story. I grant it to you, but you must make me a promise…' Mr Giscard d'Estaing had said that although Diana was the inspiration behind the book, the story itself was pure fiction.

'We were talking about love stories between the leaders of major countries and she said to me 'why don't you write a book about it?'' Mr Giscard d'Estaing told Le Point magazine of a conversation he had with Diana.   

In Europe, he forged a close relationship with former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt and together they laid the foundations for the euro single currency, setting up the European Monetary System.

Mr Giscard d'Estaing sought to project the image of a young, modern president who was closer to the people than his predecessors, inviting himself to dinner at ordinary folks' homes and playing the accordion.  

But the global economic downturn of the 1970s and his perceived arrogance that rubbed many French voters the wrong way contributed to his losing his re-election bid to Socialist Francois Mitterrand. 

Valery Giscard d'Estaing, then president of the center-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) and former French president, speaking during a rally in favour of the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty on European Union in Vincennes in 2017

French PM Raymond Barre meeting with Valery Giscard d'Estaing at the Elysee Palace in 1981

Valery Giscard d'Estaing (L) and his wife Anne-Aymone leaving after attending the funeral of L'Oreal heiress, Liliane Bettencourt, at the Saint-Pierre church in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris

Mr Giscard d'Estaing sought to project the image of a young, modern president who was closer to the people than his predecessors, inviting himself to dinner at ordinary folks' homes. The global economic downturn of the 1970s and his perceived arrogance contributed to his losing his re-election bid to Socialist Francois Mitterrand

Mr Giscard d'Estaing took office a year after Britain joined the European Economic Community and met every British leader from Edward Heath – the only one he described as a 'true European' – to David Cameron.

He once said it was geography that dictated Britain's often prickly relations with Europe, and in 2016 chipped in to efforts to persuade Britons to stay in the European Union. Months before the referendum in 2016, he told Reuters his message to Britain was: 'We love you. Don't leave us now.' 

Known for his razor-sharp intellect, Mr Giscard d'Estaing, who was 55 when he lost his re-election bid, complained that many in France saw little use for former presidents. 'They only have the right to publish memoirs that no one reads. I have never accepted this and as time passes I feel increasingly free,' he said.

One role he took on was as head of the convention that drafted a European constitution that was voted down in France and the Netherlands in 2005 that would have seen increased integration.

For over three decades, Mr Giscard d'Estaing held on to the title of France's youngest president, until Emmanuel Macron blew apart the country's political arena aged 39, nine years younger than Giscard was when elected. 

Mr Giscard d'Estaing was well known for his passionate liasions with numerous beautiful women. He was married to his cousin, Anne-Aymone Sauvage de Brantes, and they had four children together.

His turbulent private life was regularly the subject of reports in France's national press.  

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