They were the bohemian power couple of the French left, defiantly unmarried partners of 30 years with prominent careers, four children and, in the end, fatally clashing ambitions. Segolene Royal, glamorous and strong-willed, raised the children, presided over a regional government and last month ran as the Socialist Party's candidate for president. Francois Hollande, an affable political glad-hander, has been the leader of the fractious party for 10 years. For a long time, their professional lives ran on parallel tracks. Mr Hollande used to describe their relationship as 'one couple, each one free'. But all that changed when Ms Royal trespassed on to her companion's turf to compete for the presidential nomination. She became a star. He became a footnote. And together, their lack of communication, mutual jealousy and contradictory policy statements helped drive the Socialist Party to back-to-back failures in France's recent presidential and parliamentary elections. The golden couple, sometimes compared in terms of charisma with America's Bill and Hillary Clinton, have gone their separate ways. Their very public break-up has unleashed a flood of recriminations and a spate of postmortem books that blame the Royal-Hollande mess for poisoning the Socialists' electoral chances. This week Ms Royal announced that she had chucked Mr Hollande out of the family apartment. She hinted that he had been unfaithful, saying: 'I asked Francois to leave home, to live his love life separately.' But it is hard to separate the personal from the political. She has since gone on the attack, settling scores in advance of her newest campaign to replace Mr Hollande as Socialist Party leader before his term ends next year. Yesterday she signalled she would like to run for president again in 2012. In an unmistakable swipe at her former partner, she said she was forced to advocate 'idiotic' economic proposals during her presidential bid, only to appease certain party bosses who did not support her anyway. The Socialists had been held hostage by their leaders to out-of-date 'dogma', Mr Hollande had given her bad advice and she regretted listening to him. No one is especially surprised that Ms Royal is trying to distance herself from the party and from her ex-companion. The hallmark of her campaign was her determined, and often clumsy, attempt to run as 'a free woman'. Her Paris headquarters, dubbed 'the forbidden city' by journalists, was off-limits to Socialist leaders, including Mr Hollande. She repeatedly took positions - on the need for all French households to fly the flag, for one - that were immediately repudiated by the party leader. At one point last summer, she confided to reporters she was planning an island wedding to Mr Hollande. He said he did not know anything about it. The discrepancies continued after her defeat last month. Ms Royal called up a centrist party leader to propose a left-centre alliance for the parliamentary elections. Mr Hollande convened a party meeting and immediately rejected it. The influential left-leaning newspaper Le Monde called their public disagreements 'a Vaudeville act'. Many people only wish Ms Royal and Mr Hollande had disentangled themselves earlier. Even before the official news of their split, a prominent Socialist deputy, Manuel Valls, seconded the motion. 'I'm fed up,' he said, 'with the way political life, and especially that of my own party, revolves around the life of a couple.' Depending on who is telling the tale, Ms Royal was either an ill-prepared shrew or the victim of a male political clique offended by her ambition. Mr Hollande, for his part, was either a spurned helpmate or an obstructionist who could not handle his companion's popularity. Each picture and its opposite may be true. Over the course of their public lives, their private relationship was refracted through the prism of politics. The two met in the early 1970s while studying at the Ecole Nationale de l'Administration, the exclusive academy that has forged France's government elite for half a century. She was an awkward bespectacled young woman, the daughter of a career military officer who ran his family like an army platoon. He was shorter and stouter, but he made up for it by being outgoing, funny and graduating near the top of their class. From the start they devoted themselves to Socialist politics. He went to work as a government spokesman under the Socialist president Francois Mitterrand before winning a seat in the National Assembly, where he has remained for his career. She toiled in the secretariat of the president, who rewarded her by parachuting her into a winnable Assembly district in central France. But she stayed in his shadow, according to her own accounts, deferring to her partner's ambitions to lead the national party while she won the presidency of a regional council. They had three children in four years. But by the time their fourth child was born, in 1992, Ms Royal had come to like the spotlight. She invited photographers into her maternity ward room to snap pictures with her one-day-old baby. She was a junior minister. 'A minister who gives birth - that's a happening,' she told a hesitant aide. To the press, she explained she wanted the publicity 'for the cause of women'. Five years later, Mr Hollande took the helm of the Socialist party, a potential launching pad for his own ambition of one day running for president. But his tenure was marred by election upsets for the Socialists and bitter infighting over policy. In 2005, he just managed to hold the party together after voters rejected a new European Union treaty that the Socialists at his urging had officially endorsed. It was around that time, according to several of the new books about the couple, that friends got wind of trouble brewing between Mr Hollande and Ms Royal. In La Femme Fatale by two Le Monde journalists, Ms Royal is described as having jealous fits. 'She was always annoyed to see Francois flit from one person to another in the corridors of the National Assembly,' the authors said, 'seeking out the press, spending long hours over lunch engaging journalists with his bon mots'. But, this time, Ms Royal was suspicious of a 'pretty, blonde and vivacious' journalist who was covering the party. According to the book, she first had one of her sons telephone the reporter's bosses to demand that they remove her from her beat. Then she asked her brother, Gerard, a former French intelligence officer, to do the same, but more forcefully. The journalist, who is believed to work for the news magazine Le Point, was duly transferred. Around the same time, Ms Royal's political star was rising. She let it be known, covertly and then openly, that she wanted to run for president. The party was in disarray. Her only rivals were the familiar faces in the Socialist panoply, considered so ponderous and inward-looking that they are widely known as 'the elephants'. She was female, good-looking and self-confident - a novelty. As her name got out, her popularity in opinion polls soared. One leftist joked that she was 'an unidentified political object'. Mr Hollande, nursing his own presidential ambitions, did not appear to take her seriously at first. In his frequent chats with journalists, he was condescending. 'She's popular,' he was reported to have said. 'All the candidates will need her.' But Ms Royal had the next laugh. In the party primary, she trounced Socialist rivals to become its presidential candidate. She then proceeded to assemble her campaign team. It was her declaration of independence. Or war. As her spokesman, she picked Arnaud Montebourg, a Socialist deputy who was perhaps Mr Hollande's biggest enemy in the party. At one point, he was asked by a radio interviewer if Ms Royal had any faults. 'Segolene Royal,' he responded, in what he later said was meant to be a joke, 'has just one flaw - her companion.'