AN Essex girl may be the first lady with a tongue stud to have set her sights on the White House. The wife of Dennis Kucinich, a left-wing Democratic congressman and 2008 presidential candidate, is a 29-year-old hippie chick from Upminster at the end of London Underground’s District line.
Elizabeth Kucinich, née Harper, has been on the stump with her husband, a 60-year-old anti-war campaigner from Cleveland, Ohio, mingling with the likes of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama backstage at the Democratic presidential debates. “There’s a kind of camaraderie,” she said.
A 6ft tall willowy redhead who has been compared to Arwen Evenstar, the Lord of the Rings character, she towers over her diminutive husband. “Who cares?” she said in an interview. “I like wearing high heels so I’m used to being taller than most men I stand next to.”
Nor is she bothered by their 31-year age difference. “I have never noticed it at all,” she said. “Dennis is a very mature but young-at-heart gentleman and we complement each other.”
Kucinich met her husband-to-be two years ago when she visited his office in the House of Representatives with her boss
as a volunteer worker for the American Monetary Institute, an offbeat group dedicated to reforming the “unjust monetary system”.
It was love at first sight for both of them. Immediately after their meeting, Dennis Kucinich phoned a friend and said: “I’ve met her [my future wife].”
He was mesmerised to receive a business e-mail from Harper with her usual signature line from Kama Sutra, one of her favourite films: “Knowing love, I shall allow all things to come and go, to be as supple as the wind and take everything that comes with great courage. My heart is as open as the sky.”
He proposed at their second meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and they married three months later. The Hollywood actress Shirley MacLaine attended their wedding.
“I knew at once I really wanted to marry this man,” Elizabeth said. “When you know it, why hang around?” It was Dennis’s third marriage, but by the time he met Elizabeth he had been single for more than 20 years.
If Dennis were elected, they would make a great team, Elizabeth said. “Can you imagine what it would be like to have real love in the White House and a true union between the masculine and the feminine?”
There were clues in her childhood that they were destined for each other, Elizabeth believes. She lived with her mother, a divorcée, on the outskirts of London in a farm labourer’s dilapidated house that was lovingly restored over the years. “The address was 4, Dennis’s Cottages, Dennis’s Lane,” she said.
Her mother runs a healing and therapy centre and passed on her love of new age philosophy to her daughter. Known at school in Essex as “the Jolly Green Giant” because of her height, she studied religion and theology at Kent University and spent time in India and Tanzania, where she worked for Voluntary Service Overseas.
It was in India that she encountered somebody with a tongue stud and later had her own implanted — a bar with two delicate balls on either side.
On her MySpace website she lists one of her favourite bands as Coldplay and says her heroes are “my beautiful husband and anyone else who embraces peace”. She describes Dennis as a “very philosophical, deep thinking person” rather than a new age type, but he is a vegan, unlike her — she still cannot resist occasional dairy products.
At Kent she unexpectedly signed up for a master’s degree in conflict resolution after meeting the course lecturer in a pub. She knew she had chosen the right subject when her final exam took place on September 11, 2001.
“The rest of the world was sending out its love to America but US officials just wanted to kick out. I remember thinking then I’d love to come to America and help them to reconcile with the rest of the world,” she said.
A shy girl in class, she has now learnt to speak in front of thousands of peaceniks and activists on behalf of her husband and his presidential campaign. Dennis was slated for his anti-war views when he first ran for president in 2004 but now “represents the voice of the majority”, she said. “Americans have come to understand he was right all along.”
As the wife of a congressman, she mixes with politicians across the political divide. Earlier this month she attended a reception for the Queen at the British embassy with Dennis, and was thrilled to meet her. “I have great respect for the royal family because of their dedication to public service,” she said.
Another of her heroines is Diana, Princess of Wales. When she died, Elizabeth’s mother rang her daughter in tears. “I was in shock for a very long time,” Elizabeth said. “She held an incredible position in my heart. I was devastated. There hasn’t been anyone able to bring that compassion back into public life.”
If Dennis makes it to the White House — admittedly an unlikely prospect — Diana will be the first lady’s role model. Americans, who always loved the princess, would like that, but they might tell Elizabeth to lose the tongue stud.