15 JUNE 2002, Page 16


He fell for the boss's daughter during a political row, but Eric Iorio is finding Marine Le Pen

hard work. Philip Delves Broughton reports

Paris COHABITING with Jean Marie Le Pen's youngest daughter Marine, the Wagnerian blonde muscle of the National Front, has made Eric Iorio a humble man. Walking ten feet behind her as she campaigned for France's parliamentary elections last week in the market of Hames, a forlorn old mining town in north-eastern France, he said, 'It's very difficult being with a Le Pen girl without being political oneself. But then you can't be too political, because they are so strong, I have to stand back all the time. My own ambitions have become more modest.'

A swarthy man with a beak of a nose and black rubber shoes, Iorio, 38, grew up in the grim Somme town of Verdun, and joined the National Front at 18. Though the grandson of Italian immigrants, he is a champion of 'France for the French'.

Years of loyal service to the Le Pens saw him rise to be national secretary for elections. But three years ago he became family. It was during a row over the European elections that he and Marine Le Pen fell into each other's arms. 'These Le Pen women are hot stuff,' says Iorio, fanning his face with his hand. 'We were fighting over something and it all happened. She is very passionate.'

As we stand there chatting on a blustery morning, between the communist-run town hall and a discount underwear stall, you get the feeling that Iorio is not often asked for his opinion. Though he is a Shacked up: Eric lona and his 'big, healthy blonde regional councillor and candidate in the parliamentary elections, he seems thrilled to be receiving any attention at all. It is normally Marine that everyone wants to talk to.

'It suits me fine to focus on her,' he says, before listing what he regards as her greatest qualities She has great analytical powers, good judgment and reacts to things in the right way at the right time.' Hardly romantic — no mention of Marine's cascading blonde hair or Lauren Bacallish, smoky voice — but politics means everything for the i.e Pen clan.

Iorio's grandfather was an Italian monarchist who fled Italy for France during the second world war. His mother was French, his father Italian. 'We had no political tradition in my family,' he says. 'But when I turned 18, I was looking around for a party to join. It was 1982, around the time of Dreux [the town where the National Front won its first local elections] and the Front just made sense to me. We needed to stop the decline in France.' He never believed he would live the young National Front activist's fantasy of hooking up with one of the boss's bouncy blonde daughters.

Marine, 33. is tipped to be her father's heir. Besides her family connection, she is also the National Front's lawyer, a regional councillor in the Pas-de-Calais, and her father's enforcer. When heads need to be cracked in the party, Marine does the cracking.

'She's a big, healthy, blonde girl, the per feet physical specimen for the north-east,' M. Le Pen boasted down the telephone last week, discussing his daughter's parliamentaty campaign. 'They like that kind up there.'

Family and politics are inextricably entwined for M. Le Pen. His three daughters are all big, healthy-looking blondes involved with men of the extreme Right. The eldest, Marie-Caroline, is married to an organiser for the National Front's rival extreme-right party, the Mouvement National Republicain. The middle one, Yann, is married to Samuel Marechal, an adviser to M. Le Pen.

Marine was already married with three children when she struck up with Iorio, who was married with one daughter. They each left their spouses and shacked up with their four children in a house opposite M. Le Pen's in Saint-Cloud, the Parisian suburb which is to the National Front what Corleone is to the Mafia.

M. Le Pen was quite understanding about the arrangement. He had married his first wife, Pierrette, when she was six months pregnant, then divorced her after 20 years. Pierrette accused him of being a compulsive philanderer and had her revenge by posing for Playboy in a frilly maid's outfit. M. Le Pen later remarried.

Despite attending Mass occasionally, M. Le Pen shuns the Catholic Church much as it shuns him, which partly explains his relaxed attitude to marriage. He admires the Pope, but has long believed that the Church is run by the Left. This fear was confirmed for him in the recent presidential election when many prominent French Catholics warned against voting for him, When he repeats the old Vichy slogan 'Work, country, family', he has in mind a secular, nationalist vision of family, instead of a Catholic one. He does not worry about a divorce here and there. His main concern for French families is that they do not adopt foreign children while there are still French orphans.

lorio, who never goes to church, has an even looser sense of family. 'Families can be reconstructed,' he says. 'One makes decisions in one's family life, but that's not the end of it. Things can always change.' He says he is 'in favour of a tax formula for people of any sex who live together. Thirty years ago, for example, the thought of two men living together was impossible.'

You will not find this in M. Le Pen's presidential manifesto. But Iorio is the future of the National Front. He does not spray his scorn across the whole of modern French society. Gays are fine. It's illegal immigrants he has no time for.

'We have a doctrinaire vision of the one, not the many,' he says of his party's approach to immigrants. He wants immigrants to be like his father and grandparents, to shed their old national identities and become French. 'It's a Catholic, nationalist vision that people who come here integrate and don't try to be different. We want everyone to be in the same bag, and we will do this by implementing preferences for proper French citizens over illegals.'

Iorio says he still finds the atmosphere at Le Pen family get-togethers intimidating. 'We talk about politics almost all the time, and they are all very close. My problem is I'm a terrible singer and the whole family likes to sing these traditional French songs. M. Le Pen likes to sing very dirty Breton songs.'

When the 73-year-old M. Le Pen retires, Iorio and Marine will, in all likelihood, become the first couple of the National Front. But they still have no plans to marry. As Iorio says, 'Marriage and divorce are very difficult.'

Philip Delves Broughton is the Daily Telegraph's Paris correspondent.