French political partners: unconventional, shy or scandal-hit

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French presidential candidate Francois Fillon and his wife Penelope pictured during a campaign rally in Paris on January 29, 2017

On the campaign trail and in the media, the partners of France's presidential contenders have had an outsized role in this year's election, some seeking the spotlight, others doing their best to avoid it.

The "other-halves" of the last two presidents have fascinated the French and the world more widely, reflecting a change in culture that previously respected the separation between private and public lives.

Rightwinger Nicolas Sarkozy married former supermodel Carla Bruni while in office in 2008, while current president Francois Hollande was caught cheating on his partner Valerie Trierweiler with actress Julie Gayet in 2014.

AFP profiles the partners of the top five candidates in the election:

- Francois Fillon, rightwing Republicans party -

Embroiled in a "fake job" scandal, his discreet Welsh-born wife Penelope was reluctantly thrust into the media spotlight in January for the first time in her husband's nearly four-decade career.

The Canard Enchaine newspaper revealed that the mother-of-five, 62, was employed by her husband as parliamentary assistant for 15 years but is accused of doing little work for her net salary of 680,000 euros.

Barely seen since then, she reappeared on March 5 next to her husband on stage at a rally near the Eiffel Tower, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd as she waved a French flag.

"It was important to show that they form a family, as we know that defending family values is at the heart of Francois Fillon's ideology," said Arnaud Mercier, a communications professor.

In an interview on the same day, she said she had been through the worst time of her life but had found strength in her Catholic faith.

She has been summoned by investigating magistrates and could face charges for misusing public money on March 28.

- Emmanuel Macron, independent centrist -

Brigitte Macron, who is 24 years older than her 39-year-old husband, was the candidate's French teacher in high school and has three children from her previous marriage.

The Macrons are one of the most talked-about couples in French politics and have appeared four times on the cover of French magazine Paris Match since April last year.

"Brigitte Macron is there for big occasions, press conferences and meetings," Sylvain Fort, the communications director of Macron's "En Marche!" movement, told AFP.

Macron has expressed his wish to create a "first lady or first gentleman status" in France for the first time, which is not part of the country's official protocol.

"Emmanuel Macron is doing an American-style campaign inspired by Kennedy and Obama," said Christian Delporte, an expert in political communication, referring to the media exposure of the couple.

Despite this, Macron has had to repeatedly deny rumours that he is gay.

- Marine Le Pen, far-right -

Marine Le Pen's romance with the vice-president of her party, Louis Aliot, has gone under the radar and the two rarely appear together as a couple. In 2014, they posted a rare selfie on Twitter, sharing a kiss.

"French people will elect a president. They will not elect a couple or a half-couple. I know how to stay in my place," Louis Aliot said recently, adding that he would retire from national politics after the election if she wins.

In her campaign video, Marine Le Pen, who is twice divorced, strolls on a beach and goes sailing -- always alone.

"Her image is not one of glamour. She has a tough image, the image of someone with authority and she holds dearly to that," communication expert Delporte told AFP.

The 48-year-old has three children from her first marriage in 1997 to businessman Franck Chauffroy who was also in the FN. She remarried another senior party figure, Eric Iorio, in 2002 before divorcing him.

- Benoit Hamon, socialist -

Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon has avoided revealing his private life, shielding his partner, with whom he is in a civil partnership, and two daughters from public scrutiny.

She was recently identified as Gabrielle Guallar, a senior public affairs executive at the LVMH luxury conglomerate, which French media has highlighted as being at odds with his Socialist agenda.

Mercier, the communications professor, told AFP it could also be a political strategy.

By keeping his private life under wraps, "it allows him to to show that he is the anti-Macron," he said.

- Jean-Luc Melenchon, far-left -

His is the most secretive of all, leaving France's lifestyle and gossip media to speculate on the identity of his partner.

Since 2015, he is believed to be in a relationship with the French filmmaker and actress Saida Jawad, a close friend of Hollande's former partner Trierweiler, according to French magazine Closer.

The 65-year-old leader of the Left Front is divorced and has a daughter, who is now a member of his party.