Why John McCain's beauty queen running mate has a grizzly bear on her office wall
By Caroline Graham
Last updated at 11:11 PM on 30th August 2008
They are not the accoutrements normally associated with an American vice-presidential candidate. First, there is the snarling grizzly bear skin draped over the sofa in her Anchorage office.
Then there is the large stuffed Alaskan king crab on the coffee table, a bizarre trophy that is one of her proudest possessions.
But former beauty queen Sarah Palin, who will become America’s first female vice-president if the Republicans win November’s election, is hardly your typical politician.
Queen of the wild frontier: Sarah Palin with the bearskin in her Alaskan office
The bumper stickers on sale in the 44-year-old’s hometown of Wasilla, a sleepy village 45 miles north of Alaska’s biggest city Anchorage, say it all: ‘The coldest state with the hottest governor.’
Last night, in an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, Sarah’s proud mother Sally Heath gave a remarkable insight into the woman who could become the second most powerful person in America, just two short years after being elected Governor of Alaska.
Indeed, should anything happen to her running mate John McCain – a frail 72-year-old with a history of malignant skin cancer – Sarah could become the first female president.
Her 68-year-old mother last night told how Sarah had always been ‘a girl powered by a driving force’.
Sarah Palin with son Track, husband Todd and daughters Willow, Bristol and Piper
Sitting in the modest three-bedroom house in Wasilla where she and her husband Chuck raised Sarah and her three siblings, Sally said:
‘She has never been a typical girly girl. We moved to Alaska when she was a baby and she was raised to hunt, shoot, fish and play sports. She is a frontierswoman. She was always good-looking but never vain. We raised her to believe she could be anything she wanted to be.
‘I would never have put Sarah down as a future vice-president, but I always knew she was destined for big things. She knows what she wants and goes after it full throttle.
‘The Alaskan king crab in her office is her proudest possession. She caught it in the Bering Strait a couple of years ago. She brought it in herself and had it stuffed and mounted. It is her pride and joy.’
[IMG]file:///C:/DOCUME%7E1/CHARLO%7E1.WIL/LOCALS%7E1/Temp/moz-screenshot.jpg[/IMG]Beauty: Sarah Palin pictured as Miss Wasilla 1984
The grizzly bear was caught by dad Chuck, a retired science teacher, three years ago. Sally said: ‘It was a mean son-of-a-gun so Sarah had it skinned with the mouth in a permanent growl.
She said, “Ma, this will keep me safe from some of the politicians I have to deal with these days!”
‘It was a joke. My Sarah can deal with anything. She’s down-to-earth, loyal, tough and very, very smart. I just can’t tell you how proud we are about it all. Just as pleased as Punch.’
Sally, a former school secretary, said her daughter’s appointment as McCain’s running mate last week came as a bolt out of the blue. She and her husband had just returned from an aborted reindeer-hunting trip when they heard the news:
Fierce competitor: Sarah (right) was point guard and captain of the school basketball team. She was known as 'Sarah Barracuda' for her intense play
‘My husband and I were going to an abandoned gold mine near Gunsight Mountain, a few hours away.
‘Cellphones don’t work out there, so we would have missed all the fun, but when we got near the cabin, the creek was swollen from heavy rain. We couldn’t get through, so we turned around and headed home.
‘Around 4am, Sarah’s husband Todd called and said, “Turn the radio on.”
‘I was half-asleep and said, “Honey, is everything OK? Is Sarah all right?”
Biker: Sarah leads and active life including ihunting and riding snowmobiles
‘I turned on CNN and saw that John McCain was about to announce his running mate.
It still didn’t click. Sarah didn’t breathe a word of this to me or anyone in the family.
‘Our phone rang again and it was Sarah. She said, “Mum, are you sitting down? Now, Ma, don’t get all stressed, but McCain is about to announce I’m his vice-president pick.”
‘I started shaking and didn’t say anything. She said, “Ma, are you OK? Please, is this OK with you and Dad?”
Fishin' n' huntin': Another favourite past-time for Sarah is fishing
‘I shouted into the phone, “Yes, yes! Go for it!” I nearly fell off the sofa. I have not stopped smiling since.’
Sally said her daughter had never been an ‘ordinary girl’. ‘She was a sporty girl and played basketball and ran track and field. She loved it so much she called her first son Track.
‘Sarah grew up hunting. She can use a gun. She and her daddy would wake up at 3am on schooldays to hunt moose. She loves caribou [wild reindeer] burgers and is most at home with a cold beer at a barbecue.’
She said Sarah entered beauty contests, not for vanity, but to earn prize money to pursue her dreams.
Governor Sarah begins the job of convincing America to vote for Senator John McCain as the next President
‘Sarah wanted to be a journalist. She wanted to go to university but knew the family budget was slim. So she went in for a beauty contest because it offered money.’
Sarah entered the Miss Wasilla pageant in 1984, which she won wearing a red Crimplene dress she made herself.
The following spring she came second in Miss Alaska, winning a £5,000 scholarship to Idaho University, where she studied journalism.
Sarah eloped with Todd, her childhood sweetheart, in 1988. Her mother said: ‘It was a shock but she did it because she knew we couldn’t afford a big white wedding. They have been together ever since. He is her rock.’
Working mother: Sarah, husband Todd, and daughters Bristol, 17, and Piper, seven
Todd is as colourful as his wife. He works on the Alaskan oil fields and has won a 2,000-mile snowmobile race called the ‘Iron Dog Race’ four times. He is one-eighth Yup’ik Eskimo.
Sally said: ‘He’s not your typical political husband. He’s more a barbecue and fishing guy. I can’t see him in a suit in Washington. But he loves my daughter and she loves him.’
They have three daughters, Bristol, 17, Willow, 13, and Piper, seven, and two sons. Their eldest, Track, 19, is in the army and is due to go to Iraq on September 11.
Sarah, a staunch anti-abortionist, gave birth to her youngest son, Trig Paxson Van Palin, four months ago, despite knowing he would have Down’s syndrome.
Senator John with his wife Cindy at the start of the nomination
Troop visit: Sarah visits Army Private James Pattison during a morale tour at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany in 2007
Sally said: ‘Sarah loves that boy more than anything. When she learned he had a problem, it didn’t affect her love for him at all. In fact, I think she feels closer to him.’
Sarah’s political career began on the city council for Wasilla – population 9,000 – in 1992 and in 2006 she was elected state Governor. Sally said: ‘We thought that was the pinnacle of her career. If only we had known...’
Last December, Sarah posed for Vogue magazine but Sally said: ‘I didn’t really like the pictures. They had her in fur. She looked too glamorous. The Sarah I know is the girl in sweatpants, her baby in her arms.
‘Sarah doesn’t really wear make-up. She’s much more at home with a gun than a mascara wand.’