Marine Le Pen on Thursday confirmed she had passed a diploma to become a professional “cat breeder” but the French far-Right leader – who recent polls suggest may crash out of next year’s presidential election – denied the move was to prepare an escape route from politics.
On the contrary, Ms Le Pen, 53, predicted her “passion” for felines which has seen aides dub her "cat mother" would see her become the first French president to bring her six with her to the Elysée Palace.
She could also envision bringing in Eric Zemmour as “prime minister”, said Ms Le Pen, who has been on the back foot since a poll last week suggested the rival nationalist would knock her out in the first round should he run before going on to lose to incumbent Emmanuel Macron.
Until now, dogs have been the pet choice for a string of French presidents.
Mr Macron has a black labrador-griffon cross called Nemo, Nicolas Sarkozy once had a Chihuahua called Big and the late Jacques Chirac a Maltese called Sumo who he banished after it became so depressed about leaving the presidential palace that he began routinely savaging his master.
Ms Le Pen’s love of cats is well documented. Last year she was outed as posting dozens of pictures of her pets on a private Instagram account called Les Chats Masqués (The Masked Cats). She changed it to The Unmasked Cats once the secret was out.
But she said she had taken her passion to the next stage during the Covid lockdown by passing a diploma during the Covid lockdown allowing her to work with domestic animals called Acaced with a special “cat” option.
Marine Le Pen has pledged to bring her six cats to the Elysée Palace should she clinch the French presidency – a tall order at present
“I have become a cat breeder,” she told RTL radio. “It’s a passion. One can do politics while having a profession, or turn a passion into a profession,” she said.
She has previously confessed that “I could stop everything and do something else. Like breed cats”.
“They are exceptionally intelligent animals. They provide deep joy, console me and give me enormous sweetness in this brutish world,” she said in 2015.
However, on Thursday, she said she had no intention of dropping the far-Right family tradition, saying: “If I don’t get elected, I will continue to do politics and will still have my cats.”
At any rate, she said she remained “convinced I’m the best-placed” to beat Mr Macron, the incumbent and current favourite. “I can and will win this presidential election,” she said.
Marine Le Pen visits the Business Exhibition Defense (in French 'Forum Entreprises Defense') in Versailles, on the outskirts of Paris on Thursday
A second Harris Interactive poll on Wednesday continued to place Mr Zemmour ahead of her on 17 to 18 per cent with Ms Le Pen on 15 to 16 per cent – a whisker ahead of Right-wing hopeful Xavier Bertrand. Mr Macron was polling to win 24 to 28 per cent in round one before going on to beat Mr Zemmour by 57 per cent to 43.
However, a separate BVA poll on Thursday placed Ms Le Pen well ahead of Mr Zemmour, on 16.5 per cent to his 13.5 per cent. Leftist leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon was on 11 per cent while Green candidate Yannick Jado was on seven to eight per cent and Socialist hopeful Anne Hidalgo, who is mayor of Paris, trailed on just five per cent.
On Thursday, Ms Le Pen said that currently Mr Zemmour “has absolutely no desire to be (my) prime minister” but that on immigration and crime, “we have come to the same conclusion and thus will be bound at one point or another to join forces”.
Mr Zemmour, twice convicted of inciting racial hatred and whose stance on Islam – which he sees as incompatible with French values – is more extreme than that of Ms Le Pen. He has dismissed the RN leader’s presidential chances given her poor performance in the last runoff against Mr Macron.
Ms Le Pen, whose cat passion some commentators say is part of her concerted bid to appear more cuddly, responded by saying: ”For now, he is perhaps not able to hear what I’m telling him but no matter, we’ll wait a bit.”