The first glimpse most of us had of Teresa Heinz Kerry was the night her husband, John Kerry, won the Iowa caucuses, the first round in the long race for the Democratic nomination for president. She looked glamorous, with a green cashmere shawl around her shoulders. She smiled, flashed a thumbs-up to the crowd. But wait. Was she talking to someone else on the podium in the middle of his victory speech?
She was. But don't be surprised. No one can accuse Heinz Kerry, 65, of not doing her bit for her husband's campaign, darting about the country to warm up voters, often on her own. She uses a private jet to lend a campaigning hand. But rest assured, she is no "prop" or ever could be. Here is a political spouse who has plenty to say, almost all of it compelling - about the world, about the Bush White House, about policy, about her own less than smooth life story - and never mind if sometimes she uses blunt language or chooses the wrong moment.
The question has been a favourite in the political parlours of Washington, DC, ever since the notion of a Kerry bid arose. Would the outspoken and stupendously wealthy woman he married in 1995, who has freely spoken of her Botox use and of their prenuptial agreement, be tamable? Would she be an asset or a liability? And could someone of such daunting presence play the role of First Lady?
Fuel to the gossip was an interview she gave to The Washington Post in the summer of 2002. She spoke adorably of "her husband" as "the love of my life", except that the man she meant was not Kerry but rather the first man she married, John Heinz, the Republican senator who died in a plane crash in 1991 just after their 25th anniversary. She recalled saying "over my dead body" whenever ideas of Heinz running for president had come up. She admitted to not adopting Kerry's name. And she said she was a Republican.
Perhaps because of the fuss her comments caused, she has made a couple of concessions to politics. Last year, she did two things: she became a registered Democrat in Massachusetts, where Kerry is the junior senator. And she tacked Kerry on to her name. She has not stopped speaking her mind, though. On the name thing: "Politically, it's going to be Heinz Kerry," she recently said. "But I don't give a shit, you know?" And she wanted us to know that when news of the Iowa victory first came through, her husband was not immediately available to pop the champagne corks. He was on the loo.
A large place in her heart is clearly still occupied by her late husband. But that is something for Senator Kerry, 60, to deal with, not the country. Then there is all that money. When Heinz died, leaving her and three children, Teresa inherited an estate of about $550m. Not only is she not a shrinking violet, she also happens to be one of the richest women in America.
The story of Maria Teresa Thierstein Simoes-Ferreira began, however, very far away from the United States.
Born to a Portuguese doctor, she was raised in Mozambique amid the tennis- and-cocktails comforts of colonial life in Africa. But she shocked her parents by joining anti-apartheid marches while at college in South Africa. From there she travelled to Geneva to interpreter school, capitalising on her fluency in five languages. It was in the Swiss city that she met John Heinz, on an exchange year from Harvard Business School. He told her at first only that his father "made soup" back home. In fact, he was the great- grandson of the Heinz who founded the food giant in 1869.
The couple moved to the US together and Teresa got a job interpreting for the United Nations. They married in 1966 and had three sons, Chris, Andre and John Heinz IV. Teresa, who still speaks with an almost unidentifiable accent and in low, even sometimes inaudible, tones, became an American citizen in 1971. The same year John was elected by voters in Pittsburgh …