Sibeth Ndiaye is the plain-speaking communications guru who has been by the French president’s side since he was an ambitious minister. As she joins his cabinet, she talks about their political differences, les gilets jaunes, Brexit and racist attacks

During his rise to power, Emmanuel Macron, France’s youngest modern leader, was often seen surrounded by a close-knit group of identikit white male advisers in suits, fellow graduates of elite political schools, soon nicknamed “the Mormons” for their uniformity. But one woman stood out: Senegalese-born Sibeth Ndiaye, his media communications supremo. The straight-talking 39-year-old in a biker jacket played a key role in crafting Macron’s image as the change-making outsider; the man who built a new centrist party in order to fight the far-right Marine Le Pen, with his intriguing personal story as a gifted school pupil who married his drama teacher, Brigitte.

Often, when Ndiaye briefed the Paris media establishment on Macron’s policy ideas, she was the only minority ethnic person in the room. She remembers the exact moment Macron really understood how this felt. It was 2015, he was an ambitious economy minister in government under the Socialist president François Hollande, and she was organising the media scrum following him at an aviation show in a hangar north of Paris. But the police kept blocking her way. “Every time we got to a stand, the security cordon would stop me going through,” she says when we meet in her office. “Usually I’m incredibly strong in those situations. But this time – I don’t know why, maybe I was tired – I just cracked and I sat down and cried.” The local police chief stepped in and personally escorted her through the event.

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