"Emmanuel Macron was never a kid like the others," says French journalist Anne Fulda, who has just written a biography about the presidential contender titled Emmanuel Macron, un jeune homme si parfait, translated as "a young man so perfect."
Macron loved to read and existed slightly in his own world, she says. He always felt at ease and mixed easily with adults. Macron's most formative relationship growing up was with his grandmother.
"He had a very special link with her because he saw her every day when he was a small kid," says Fulda. "Even when he was a banker at Rothschild, he spoke to her every day. But not two minutes. An hour. It was a very singular link. And this story began when he was 5 years old."
Macron, 39, has said that it was his grandmother who helped him believe in his political destiny.
At 15, Macron fell in love with his high school drama teacher, Brigitte Auzière. She was married with three children — and 24 years his senior.
Now 64, she is married to Macron and set to become the first lady of France.
In the recent television documentary Emmanuel Macron — The Strategy of a Star, Brigitte Auzière Macron says she never felt the age difference between them. She describes the bond that first formed when they worked together to rewrite a play.
"We wrote together every Friday," she says in the film, "and little by little, I became completely subjugated by the intelligence of this young man. His mind is so full and perfect. His capacities are completely beyond any normal human being's."
Years later, Auzière confided to a friend that she had the feeling she was "working with Mozart."
Macron's parents were shocked when they found out about the relationship with his teacher. They asked Auzière not to see their son again until he was 18.
Biographer Fulda says the story is like something right out of the classic French novels by Balzac or Stendhal that Macron devoured as a child. Fulda says his relationship with Auzière caused a complete scandal in the small, provincial city of Amiens in northern France.
"You've got to imagine that this story begins in a provincial city, where everybody knows what everybody does, everybody speaks," says Fulda. "So it's difficult to live this story in a small city like Amiens. And especially because Brigitte Macron comes from a prominent and well-established family that has a chain of shops specializing in macaroons."
Macron's parents sent him to Paris to finish secondary school at one of the country's best high schools. But his bond with his former teacher only became stronger.
"They spoke for hours on the phone every day," says Fulda. "And Emmanuel told Brigitte, 'I will be back for you. Whatever you do, I will marry you.' "
They married in 2007.
In a video from the reception, the handsome young groom thanks the guests for their support over the previous 13 years.
"We're not exactly a normal couple," he says. "But you have accepted us and stood by us — and we exist, thanks to you."
Macron has said his parents initially "took it badly."
"Strength of conviction was required," he told Fulda. "They thought on several occasions that it was going to stop and naturally did everything to encourage that. ... You have to learn to fight for things, to bear the burden and have a life which does not in any way correspond to other peoples' lives."
Fulda says the experience is important in showing who Macron is today.
"It tells us about his determination, very big determination," she says. "And his desire to choose his life. And to be free."
Macron has always gone against convention, Fulda notes.
"To decide to run for president when nobody knows you — it's quite incredible," she says. "It's a sort of way to act against the system."
French voters go to the polls Sunday to choose their next president. Unless there are huge surprises, Macron is expected to beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
He has never been elected to political office. Those who know him say his trajectory is a combination of brilliance, ambition and luck.
Alain Minc, a business consultant who has known Macron for 15 years, says when Macron decided he wanted to seek the presidency, Minc advised him to prepare his presidential bid for the next time around.
"I told him, 'You want to go too quickly,' " says Minc. "I told him, 'You should not run in 2017, you should run in 2022 and you should prepare it now.' And his answer was fascinating. He told me, 'You are describing the world of yesterday. Now it doesn't work like that. You are wrong.' And he was right!"
Even though he's a political outsider, Macron is a pure product of the French system. He went to all the best French schools, including the esteemed École Nationale d'Administration, whose alumni include virtually every French president.
He worked as an investment banker and was an economic counselor at the Elysèe Palace when President Francois Hollande tapped him to be economy minister. Macron stepped down from his post two years later, disillusioned by what he felt was a dysfunctional system. He founded a political party and launched his presidential bid last August.
Macron's explosion onto the French political scene is as unusual as his personal life. In recent months, he's addressed packed rallies across the country. His message of engagement is in sharp contrast to his opponent's. Le Pen says she wants to close borders and close off from the world to protect the French from globalization and terrorism.
In a televised debate this week, Macron told Le Pen he rejected her message of defeatism.
"I bring the spirit of French conquest," he said. "France has always succeeded because it is part of the world. Our language, history and civilization shine out across every continent. And this global force is why we are the world's fifth largest economic power."
Macron's wife sits in the front row of every rally. The two are said to have an intimate personal and political relationship. He calls her his "equilibrium." He is also said to have an affectionate bond with her three grown children and seven grandchildren.
Consultant Minc says he's never met someone so lucky.
"I always tell him, you must have a contract with God," he says.
Minc says Macron's fortunes rose as every mainstream and establishment politician was swept away. But Macron knows how to seize his chance.
"When fate knocked, he was bold enough to take advantage of it," says Minc. "He was talented and lucky. That was exactly what Napoleon Bonaparte asked from his generals. Talent and luck."
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
French voters are going to pick their next president on Sunday. They are choosing between far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and a centrist newcomer, Emmanuel Macron. He's a former economy minister. He's seen as pro-business. He says he wants to make France more innovative and open to the world. I want to bring in NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, who's been covering this race. Hi, Eleanor.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: All right, so tell me about Macron. He seems pretty confident. He's 39 years old. He started his own party. Where did he come from?
BEARDSLEY: Well, David, as you said, he's only 39 years old. He's never run for anything at all. And on Sunday, he could be the next president of France, the youngest one ever.
GREENE: Youngest in French history, that's no small thing. Well, how did it go from being this unknown to the cusp of leading a country?
BEARDSLEY: Well, you know, sort of a combination of brilliance, ambition and sheer luck. He calls himself an outsider, but he went to all the best French schools. He worked as an investment banker. As you said, he eventually became economy minister. But he left early to launch his own party and candidacy for the president less than a year ago.
He's very unusual. The French describe him as Romanesque, which means adventurous, sentimental, almost a character out of a novel. I've talked to people who know Macron and have written about him. And here's what some of them had to say.
ANNE FULDA: Emmanuel Macron, he's got a special story. It's a Romanesque story.
BEARDSLEY: Political reporter Anne Fulda has just published a biography on Macron. She says he was never a kid like the others. He liked to socialize with adults. And his most formative relationship growing up was with his grandmother, who Macron says helped him believe in his political destiny.
At 15, Macron fell in love with his high school drama teacher. She was married with three children and 24 years his senior. That teacher, Brigitte Auziere, is now married to Macron and set to become the first lady of France. In a recent television documentary, Brigitte Macron says she never felt the age difference between them. She says their bond formed when they rewrote a play together.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BRIGITTE MACRON: (Through interpreter) Little by little, I was completely overcome by the intelligence of this young man. Even though we've been together for so long, I still haven't seen the limit of his culture or his mind's potential. It's incredible. Emmanuel's natural abilities are way beyond normal.
BEARDSLEY: Macron's parents were shocked when they found out about the relationship. They asked Auziere not to see their son again until he was 18. Biographer Fulda says the relationship caused a complete scandal in the provincial town.
FULDA: Everybody knows what everybody does, everybody speaks. So it was difficult to live this story in a small city like Amiens. It's a sort of a, yes, a melodramatic story.
BEARDSLEY: Macron's parents sent him away to finish high school in Paris, but that didn't end things. Emmanuel and Brigitte spoke on the phone for hours every day, and their bond became stronger. Fulda says he told Brigitte he would come back one day to marry her.
FULDA: It tells us about his determination and his desire to choose his life and to be free.
BEARDSLEY: Fulda says Macron has always gone against convention.
FULDA: To decide to run for president when nobody knows you, it's quite incredible. It's a sort of way to act against the system.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).
BEARDSLEY: In a video from the couple's 2007 wedding, the handsome groom thanks the guests for their support over the last 13 years. We're not exactly a normal couple, he says, but you've accepted us, and we exist thanks to you. Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron have a close personal and political relationship. She campaigns by his side. Fulda says he has an affectionate bond with her three children and seven grandchildren.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
E. MACRON: (Over loudspeaker, speaking French).
BEARDSLEY: Macron's explosion onto the French political scene is as unusual as his personal life. In packed rallies across the country, his message is in sharp contrast to that of his opponent. Marine Le Pen wants to close borders and protect the French. During their televised debate this week, Macron told Le Pen he rejects her defeatist vision.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
E. MACRON: (Through interpreter) I embrace France's dominance because France has always succeeded. She's always succeeded in the world because she is out there as part of the world. Her language is spoken on every continent. France's history, her civilization is our strength and what we project. And it's why we're the fifth most important global economy. It's why we're strong globally.
BEARDSLEY: Business consultant Alain Minc has known Macron for 15 years. Minc says he advised him to prepare for a presidential bid in 2022, not this year.
ALAIN MINC: I told him you want to go too quickly. And his answer was fascinating. He told me you are describing the world of yesterday. Now, it doesn't work like that. You are wrong. And he was right.
BEARDSLEY: Minc says Macron must have a contract with God because he's never met anyone so lucky. In this race, every mainstream and establishment politician has been swept away. But Minc says Macron knows how to seize his chance.
MINC: When fate was coming, he was bold enough to profit by it and to grasp any opportunity. He was talentuous (ph) and lucky. That was exactly what Napoleon Bonaparte was requesting from his generals - talent and luck.
GREENE: All right, Eleanor Beardsley's still with us. Eleanor, what do the French make of his story?
BEARDSLEY: Well, they're kind of stunned by it, David. And I think women kind of like the fact that he married someone so much older. It seems like a real love story. And by the way, it's the same age difference as between President Trump and his wife Melania.
GREENE: Interesting. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Thanks.
BEARDSLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.