DAVID JONES investigates champagne boss Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger

The champagne boss who frolicked in Paris sex clubs and the lover who threatened to cut off his ‘zizi’: DAVID JONES investigates Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger and a scandal that couldn’t be more French if it tried!

When James Bond romances a conquest over dinner, after dispatching a sinister Soviet agent, he is famously partial to a martini cocktail — shaken, of course, not stirred.

In Ian Fleming’s novels, however, and in the earliest films, 007 seduces his lovers with a more sophisticated ambrosia: vintage bubbly matured in the ancient cellars of Taittinger, the Reims champagne house.

We see him in From Russia With Love, chilling a bottle to perfection by tying it to a piece of string and dangling it into the river, as he reclines in a punt with bikini-clad Sylvia Trench. And again in Casino Royale, ordering a bottle of 1943 brut as he dines with femme fatale Vesper Lynd. Not a well-known brand, he tells her languidly as their glasses are filled, ‘but it is probably the finest in the world’.

Superficially, at least, there are similarities between Bond and Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, grandson of the winery’s eponymous founder, who bought the company back into family ownership in 2007 and remains its honorary president. He heads a clan reportedly worth £2.75 billion.

Both men are cultured, dashingly handsome and suavely attired, and both relish the finer things in life. From his eyebrow-raising public admissions, wild-haired M. Taittinger, now 70, also appears to share Bond’s libidinous appetite for beautiful women.

Bubbles baron: Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, attending a champagne tasting in 2016

With one rather important difference. Bond was a confirmed bachelor. The lustful bubbly baron has been married for many years and presents himself as a staunch family man.

When Taittinger became the first major champagne house to plant vineyards in England (bottles are due on the shelves next year) he posed on a Kentish hillside with his arms around his floppy-hatted wife, Claire, six years his senior, and daughter Vitalie, who now runs the business.

And with an insouciance that typifies the libertine reputation of some of his countrymen, he confesses to affairs, boasting to one journalist that he was ‘paid to drink wonderful champagne, eat and make love sometimes’.

In the same interview, in 2016, he envisaged a retirement where he would have no more mistresses. ‘My wife will be happy,’ he said, no doubt with a twinkle in his eye.

Quite how these remarks were received chez Taittinger, one shudders to imagine.

For what this charismatic man — who has likened his champagne to Viagra — omitted to reveal, in that jocularly self-compromising interview with the Irish Times seven years ago, was that his debauchery was, at that moment, disastrously rebounding on him.

The fall-out from his louche lifestyle had placed him in physical danger and threatened to have ruinous repercussions, not only for him, but for his family and their precious champagne brand.

Taittinger, you see, had recently ended a three-year romance with a beguiling accountant, whom he had wooed after they met at a business lunch. In revenge she was bombarding him, his wife and their associates with threats of violence and slanderous smears.

Her relentless harassment campaign only ended in October 2017, when she was arrested, having journeyed 90 miles from Paris to Reims armed with a kitchen knife, waited for him to return home and threatened to cut off his ‘zizi’ (the childish French word she used for his penis).

In a macabrely farcical scene, the panic-stricken M. Taittinger, then 63, fled several hundred yards down the street before pulling a muscle. He was rescued by a passing motorist and taken to hospital, but even as he was being treated the threats continued.

‘If I had trainers [on] I’d have caught up with you and killed you,’ the enraged woman texted him.

Such is the code of secrecy that allows prominent French figures to conceal compromising compartments of their lives, that this sordid story has remained a closely guarded secret for six years.

It emerged only last week, when the woman — named as Samira L. — appeared in a Paris court. She admitted threatening Taittinger with a weapon, violence, harassment and making malicious phone calls, and received a one-year suspended prison sentence.

As the details unfolded, onlookers were afforded a rare glimpse into the seedy double-lives led by some seemingly upstanding members of French society. A world in which it is perfectly acceptable for powerful men to watch their mistresses having sex with groups of strangers in swingers’ clubs.

The mansion: Château de la Marquetterie, Taittinger

Indeed, as Samira L.’s lawyer, Tom Michel, conceded to me, it is a story that says much about Gallic morality. In many ways, he says, it could only have happened in France.

And as we shall see, there is also an intriguing twist to this scandal — one that could solve an enduring French political mystery.

During the four-hour hearing last week, the three judges were presented with two very different versions of the truth.

While Samira, now 48, pleaded guilty, she portrayed herself as the true victim of the affair, using the courtroom to make jaw-dropping allegations against Taittinger and depicting him as a licentious man who had stolen her innocence.

Dressed demurely in a black suit, wearing glasses and with her hair tied in a bun, this petite, Algerian-born woman seemed light-years removed from the sequin-masked temptress who escorted Taittinger to Paris’s most audacious libertine clubs, 2plus2 and Les Chandelles (a favourite haunt of disgraced International Monetary Fund boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn).

In calm, measured tones, she recalled how, driven by her father, she had excelled at college before embarking on a career in accountancy. She said she had been a virgin before marrying a businessman, with whom she has a teenage daughter, and settling in the Paris suburbs. Her love-life was then ‘traditional’, she said. But everything changed in 2011, when her company was engaged to work for Taittinger and, then in her mid-30s, she met the flamboyant Pierre-Emmanuel.

After lunch he walked her to the station, she said, then began sending her flirtatious messages. She was similarly smitten.

‘It was intellectual love at first sight,’ Samira told the court. ‘We were both passionate about Aragon (the Romantic French poet) and Leo Ferre (an avant-garde musician).’

A romance began and at first it was ‘wonderful,’ she said.

‘For Samira it was a coup de foudre (love at first sight),’ her lawyer M. Michel, of the top Paris law firm Vey and Associates, told me. ‘She was much younger than him and he is charming and charismatic.

‘And, as everybody knows, he’s a great seducer. He talks about it openly. His wife knows all about it, and she’s OK with it. Samira wasn’t his first mistress and probably won’t be the last.’

After three years, the lawyer told me, they discussed living together. However, while Samira was prepared to sacrifice her family life for Taittinger, he said there was no need for him to leave home.

Instead, he set her up in an apartment in the affluent 16th arrondissement of Paris, paying the monthly rent of around £2,000, and promised she would have everything she wanted.

Somewhat reluctantly, M. Michel claims, Samira agreed to this arrangement, but it was then that the affair began to turn ‘toxic’.

In court, she said Taittinger began urging her to text him explicit photographs of herself and lurid messages describing her supposed sexual fantasies.

He called them his ‘crus’ — a term most often associated with the quality of grapes used to produce champagne, but in his lexicon shorthand for raw, unadulterated smut.

‘He would ask for this position, or that lingerie in the photos,’ she told the judges.

In her desire to please Taittinger, Samira’s lawyer says she drew inspiration from the works of Anais Nin, the erotica author.

In court, she portrayed herself as a kept woman, totally in Taittinger’s thrall. ‘I couldn’t have any social life, other than with him. I had to be at his beck and call 24 hours a day,’ she said.

As his demands grew more depraved, she claims he persuaded her to have sex with strangers while he watched. These sessions at first took place privately, but later at the Paris sex clubs, where they were known by aliases: Bruno and Lamia. In statements to the police, owners of the various clubs confirmed that they were regular clients but described them as ‘loving and promiscuous’ libertines.

Samira was an enthusiastic participant in the orgies, they said, and it was she who chose her partners. This contradicted Samira’s claim, that she only took part to please Taittinger, and that some of her experiences even amounted to rape. Asked in court why the club bosses had supported her former lover’s story rather than hers, she suggested it was because he supplied their premises with champagne.

Describing the evenings when they went to these clubs, she said: ‘I was no longer in control.

Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger and wife Claire

‘He would call me to choose my outfit, make-up and waxing. He chose everything.’

Taittinger, she claimed, enjoyed making love to her after she had been with a procession of men. He would also ply her with champagne, because ‘when I was stoned drunk, I was more malleable to fulfil his fantasies.’ Sometimes they consumed three bottles a night and she became an alcoholic. She also began taking antidepressants.

According to her lawyer, it eventually reached a point where she could take no more. When she met Taittinger for lunch at a Reims hotel, prior to another arranged afternoon sex session with strangers, she fled from the table and hid in the kitchen.

The denouement came in 2014, he says, when Taittinger persuaded her to have sex with 20 men in a single night at one of the libertine clubs, choreographing the proceedings ‘like a film director’ as she was passed between them ‘like a piece of meat’.

It left her deeply traumatised, M. Michel says, and their affair ended, with an agreement that Taittinger would continue to pay her rent for several more years. However, he says, matters worsened for Samira when the champagne boss told her employer about the threatening and slanderous messages she was sending him and people close to him, causing her to lose her well-paid accountancy job.

Addicted to drink and drugs, she began to bombard him and those around him — including a female British executive at Taittinger — with thousands of messages, besmirching his character and threatening violence.

At the time, the #MeToo movement was just taking off, and she also made damaging allegations about him on the equivalent French website #BalanceTonPorc (‘expose your pig’).

Her thirst for vengeance ran so deep that she persuaded a friendly waitress at her local tabac to drive her to Taittinger’s sumptuous home in Reims, where, in gathering darkness, she confronted him with the knife and threatened to emasculate him. ‘I wanted to ruin his life, as he had ruined mine,’ she explained to the judges.

A very different story was put forward by the prosecution, and a representative of Taittinger, who did not attend the court hearing.

His lawyer, Nicolas Hubsch, said he had fallen ‘stupidly in love’ with Samira, and remained so besotted, even as her poisonous messages rained down, that he had to be persuaded to go to the police.

The episode had left Taittinger ‘a tired, tortured, despondent man’, but had he not taken legal action the campaign would never have stopped. ‘She can’t stop slandering him,’ said M. Hubsch. ‘Slander, slander . . . there will always be something left.’ The judges only needed to study the barrage of texts Samira had sent to see where the truth lay. ‘She claims to be the victim of a sexual manipulator, but the investigation showed nothing of the sort.’

The court was presented with a psychiatric report assessing Samira as histrionic and emotionally dependent. It said she was prone to attention seeking and positioned herself as a victim.

The prosecution said it was a simple case, complicated by her unsupported claims: ‘Her position does not stand up to scrutiny. The investigation did not bring out the explanations [she has] given.’

And given that the judges doubled the prosecution’s requested sentence of six months, they apparently agreed.

However, in the court of French public opinion, Samira’s lawyer insists she has emerged favourably from the case. Now a ‘lonely and broken’ woman, unable to form a loving relationship, he hopes her recovery will be helped by airing her side of the story.

Whatever we might think of Samira, it is a wretchedly sad tale. Yet when I caught up with M. Taittinger, on Tuesday, as he greeted a friend at Reims railway station, there was not a jot of empathy for the woman with whom he had indulged his proclivities.

‘Why should I feel sorry for her?’ he demanded, when I asked him whether he felt remorse over his ex-mistress’s demise. ‘I only feel sorry for my family, who have suffered through this. It is an old story. You only want to make bubbles because of who I am.’

French justice had spoken on this matter, he said, vindicating him and deciding that she was the guilty party.

From a man whose very name is a byword for style and class, it was hardly a chivalrous response. But then, as this degenerate tale has gone to prove, behind that debonair façade, Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger is no James Bond.

So, to that tantalising twist.

The Taittinger family’s renown and influence extends beyond winemaking. They have a long political tradition. The company’s founder chaired the municipal council of Paris during the Nazi occupation, and Pierre-Emmanuel’s father, Jean, was a long-serving mayor of Reims.

In June 2016, the man at the heart of this story burnished his own political ambitions, declaring his intention to stand in the following year’s presidential election.

Barely 48 hours later, citing a vague ‘personal problem involving one of my friends’ as his reason, he abruptly withdrew from the race.

At the time, we now know, the Samira saga was fizzing in the background and threatened to be explosively uncorked.

Did Taittinger abort his candidature for fear that his secret life might be exposed, calling his presidential credentials into question, at it had for his fellow libertine Strauss-Kahn a few years earlier?

The truth might lie in another comment he made, during that incautious 2016 interview: ‘When you are a champagne president you can change the woman every day. But when you are French president you should avoid that kind of thing.’

At the time, he seemed to be taking a swipe at the socialist incumbent Francois Hollande, whose comical nocturnal dalliances with a French actress he had installed in an apartment near the Elysee Palace had made him a laughing stock.

Yet given that the vintage philanderer was then under constant threat from his vengeful ex-paramour, isn’t it reasonable to speculate that the ‘personal problem’ to which he alluded was really his own?

Additional reporting: Rory Mulholland

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