French leader Francois Mitterrand 'didn't fool UK' over hidden illness

Ailing French leader Francois Mitterrand couldn’t fool UK over illness he hid from public for years, documents show

  • Sir Reginald Hibbert, UK ambassador to France, said the then newly elected French president was hiding the truth about his health in a letter in 1981
  • The late Sir Reginald said he knew of ‘reliable reports’ Mr Mitterrand had cancer
  • Mr Mitterrand concealed his illness from the public until 1992 and died in 1996

A British diplomat suspected Francois Mitterrand had serious medical problems 11 years before they became public.

Sir Reginald Hibbert, UK ambassador to France, said the then newly elected French president was hiding the truth about his health in a letter to the head of the Diplomatic Service in 1981.

He told Sir Michael Palliser an official update on Mr Mitterrand’s health at the time was ‘full of medical mumbo-jumbo’ to give a ‘reassuring impression’.

But the late Sir Reginald said he knew of ‘reliable reports’ that before taking office Mr Mitterrand had cancer, and his own observations led him to suspect he was ill.

Mr Mitterrand was president until 1995 and died in 1996 from prostate cancer aged 79. He concealed his illness from the public until 1992, when he had surgery

The late Sir Reginald (pictured) said he knew of ‘reliable reports’ that before taking office Mr Mitterrand had cancer, and his own observations led him to suspect he was ill

Mr Mitterrand was president until 1995 and died in 1996 from prostate cancer aged 79. He concealed his illness from the public until 1992, when he had surgery.

Mr Mitterrand had been in office for less than a year when the UK’s ambassador to France reported back with his suspicions, gleaned from an Elysee Palace insider, who said he had ‘very reliable reports’ on Mr Mitterrand’s health well before took office.

Sir Reginald wrote: ‘According to these (reports), Mr Mitterrand was suffering from a form of leukaemia, which was controllable within limits by medical treatment and whose effects would be slow to develop.’

He said Mr Mitterrand did not consider his ill-health a barrier to running for Presidency because he was such a rank outsider for the job.

Mr Mitterand with Queen Elizabeth II cutting the ribbon to officially open the Channel tunnel in 1994

The former French president with UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1986

‘When the election suddenly turned in his favour, he was caught and was now bound to put the best possible face on the state of his health,’ Sir Reginald added.

He said Mr Mitterrand recently told television viewers he was ‘feeling better’ following a routine check-up – an accusation by the Elysee source that he was ‘lying to the French people’ about the seriousness of his health.

Sir Reginald also remarked on the President’s ‘oddness in demeanour’, ‘remarkably pallid’ skin, and shortages of breath.

‘Paradoxically, I think that the more Mr Mitterrand parades his allegedly clean bill of health, the more one becomes suspicious that there is something wrong with him.’

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