She was a south Wales law student who moved to France and met one of the rising young stars of Gallic politics.
The couple have five children and live in a 12th Century manor house
Now Penelope Fillon, 51, from the Monmouthshire town of Abergavenny, has become the first British woman to be married to a French prime minister.
Her husband Francois Fillon has been named premier by newly-elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The couple, who have five children, are the new guardians of their official residence, Paris's Palais Matignon.
Mrs Fillon studied French to A-level at the King Henry VIII grammar school in Abergavenny before she became a law student in France and married her husband 27 years ago.
She was described by her former French teacher Alan Breeze, a Monmouthshire councillor, as "an outstanding student, a gifted linguist and a very thoughtful person".
Mr Breeze said he had lunch with Mme Fillon and her husband in 1999 when he went to France to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Abergavenny's twinning with the French town of Beaupreau.
"They were charming, both of them," said Mr Breeze.
"Penny hadn't changed at all and she was still the same person. He was a very charming man and full of life.
"I'm very pleased for them. I'm sure she will back him to the hilt."
The prime minister's wife and family do not always move into the Palais Matignon, but Mrs Fillon is expected to be present for formal receptions.
They and their five children - Marie, Charles, Antoine, Edouard and Arnaud - currently live in the Chateau de Beauve, a 12th Century manor house near Le Mans in western France, the region represented by Mr Fillon, 53, in France's senate.
It is thought the couple first met when they were both working in the French defence ministry in the late 1970s.
Salut - the outgoing and incoming prime minister's wives embrace
They married in 1980 at the 17th Century church of St Bartholomew in Llanover, near Abergavenny, for which Mrs Fillon needed a special licence because she was already living in France.
She was one of five children of local solicitor George Clarke and his wife Glenys. They are no longer alive but Mrs Fillon's sister Jane is married to Mr Fillon's brother Pierre, an eye surgeon.
Abergavenny town mayor Tony O'Donovan said: "This is quite amazing and the town will be buzzing about it.
"I'm sure a lot of people here have fond memories of her family and it's lovely that she could be the French answer to Cherie Blair.
"Mind you, I'm sure a lot of people will think she would be a lot better than Mrs Blair."
Mrs Fillon is described as "tall, elegant and unpretentious," a keen horsewoman, and popular in French political circles.
British officials in Paris say she is also loyal to Wales and proud of her Welsh roots.
French journalist Florence Loyez said: "She takes everything in her stride. She is liked locally and has no airs and graces.
"She dresses like a typical 'Britannique', usually riding trousers and boots."