Niinistö’s wife: Livelier than most people think
Jenni Haukio’s cheerful side often overlooked, as she prefers keep her privacy
By Anna-Stina Nykänen
You probably won’t believe it, but Jenni Haukio has a good sense of humour. She is vivacious and laughs easily – she’s the kind of person who it is fun to sit and have coffee with.
The public image projected of Haukio is somewhat different. She is criticised as being school-marmy, and people are surprised when she talks about her spouse in an old-fashioned way.
Are you putting on some kind of an act?
“No, this is just how I am”, Haukio laughs. “I have also been called a grandmother, and I have nothing against that. Grandmothers are the world’s most wonderful people!”
A hint of an accent reveals that Haukio is from Pori. She was born in 1977 – not quite the internet generation.
She was a girl who liked fishing and won fishing contests. Her family spent time at a cabin on the water.
Haukio sang second soprano at the Cygnaeus Comprehensive School and played the accordion. She was into athletics and directed younger children in the playground.
Was she a granny already then?
Well, she certainly was no tomboy, although she was of the type who would walk with a frog on her hand. She became an animal lover at an early age.
“It wasn’t the fashion then. At the time girls who loved animals were more likely to be horse fans”, she says
Now Haukio is a member of the Helsinki Animal Protection Association. She does not wear fur. Are you a vegetarian?
“I don’t eat red meat.”
Haukio comes from a so-called ordinary family. Her father Teuvo is a sales clerk at a hardware store, and her mother Ritva is a nurse. Brother Teemu is currently a school counsellor. Her deceased grandfather Toivo Haukio is a Master of Laws, a well-known figure in Pori, and chairman of the Satakunta branch of the National Coalition Party.
Her mother liked poetry. The daughter started writing poems at the age of 17. “I got the inspiration from an anthology of the work of Pablo Neruda.” She took a course on modern poetry in Pori, and now she has three collections published.
She became interested in politics at about the same time that she started writing. Her choice was the National Coalition Party. She went into her party’s youth activities right away.
She had plenty of hobbies, but her education did not suffer, and she graduated from high school with high marks.
She doesn’t actually remember ever going through puberty.
“I’ve never touched tobacco, and I tried alcohol later than most of my friends.”
But she did try it. A contemporary recalls seeing her intoxicated once. A little bit of normal youth experience.
Haukio has an interesting relationship with politics. She studied political science at the University of Turku, served as chair of the Satakunta region of the National Coalition Party, and as the parliamentary aide of MP Anne Holmlund. However, she never ran for office herself.
“I considered it, but I am more interested in working as a functionary. I feel that I would prefer to work in the background to being in centre stage. It is possible to make the world a better place either as an elected official or as a functionary. There’s not much of a difference.”
She does not have an agenda as interesting as that. It is not economics, or social services. The topic of her doctoral thesis at the University of Helsinki is “The impact of information technology on party activities”.
What kind of a person wants to be a party functionary? Exactly the kind of person that Haukio is: she does not seek out attention.
Haukio has always been active, but she has never been in the eye of the storm. She was good at school, but very quiet, says one classmate. “The boys did not see her as one of the most popular girls in the class.”
One classmate says that she was distant and blended into the background. “She looked the same as she does now – ordinary, not done up.”
A fellow university student saw her as someone who mainly watched from the sidelines. “Appealing, with the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie.” The fellow student compares Haukio with Niinistö’s previous fiancé Tanja Vienonen, who was in Turku at the same time. Veinonen sparked envy when she got into the convertible of a well-known Moroccan dance teacher.
“I could never have imagined Haukio in that flashy red Corvette”, one contemporary said.
Haukio does not cause scandals.
Now that she is head of communications at the National Coalition Party, journalists will complain that no news ever comes from her. She never reveals anything.
In her own defence, Haukio says that it has been decided in the National Coalition Party that only politicians should issue statements.
“It is the strategy of the National Coalition Party. I am part of the team. You can ask Taru Tujunen and Jyrki Katainen.
Haukio is no blabbermouth.
”As a friend she is very loyal, warm, and trustworthy”, says Johanna Sipola , head of communications at the Finnish Business and Policy Forum EVA, and Hauhio’s best friend since childhood.
Publicity was thrust upon Haukio when she married Sauli Niinistö in 2009. Their relationship had remained a secret for two years.
She is not saying how the relationship began – that is how the two have agreed. At first she made note during their work that Niinistö was a good writer.
The two live in Espoo in a well-appointed house covering 170 square metres. They have a Boston terrier named Lennu. Niinistö has two adult sons and one grandchild, making Haukio a step-grandmother.
Haukio has tried to avoid publicity. She was angered when a satirical television programme poked fun at her. Now she finds it natural to be in the public eye. Photographs of the spouses of the presidential candidates are needed.
In fact, the interest was increased by the fact that Pekka Haavisto’s partner is a man. If Paavo Väyrynen were in the second round, neither partner would probably be getting as much attention.
Haukio has been derided as an idol of housewives; Niinistö said that it is nice when the wife at home irons the shirts.
Household work at their home is divided equally, Haukio says. If one happens to run for president, the other will work a bit more at home. What’s so strange about that?
And they have always done the housework themselves.
“I’ve never even had a cleaner.”
living at the official presidential residence of Mäntyniemi would be a big change. Has she ever had second thoughts about joining up with Sauli?
“I have not doubted for a minute. I was swept away by love”, Haukio says. “And this isn’t all that exceptional. People have many different kinds of situations in their lives.”
Haukio claims that she has not thought about what it would be like to be the president’s wife. How can this be?
“I recognise that it would change my life. But the situation remains completely open. If Sauli were elected, the office of the president is the most important. I would be terribly selfish to think about only me, me, me, and what would happen to me.”
I suppose that I would need to prepare. Haukio already raised some eyebrows when a spoon at the President’s Independence Day reception was in the wrong place.
She has not had time to think about things like that. She has been so busy. A party functionary cannot waste time daydreaming in connection with the elections.
“If you put yourself in my position, you will understand that it has been quite a brouhaha. If Sauli is elected I will orient myself to what is coming. I believe that there will be time for that.”
President Tarja Halonen has been an important role model for Finnish girls and boys. What kind of a first lady would she be?
She has been compared with Jacqueline Kennedy, but she is no fashion icon, nor is she upper class.
Among the people she calls to mind – and please don’t get excited – is Princess Diana. She will touch the arm of a stranger and look him or her in the eye. When that happens, it is said that she makes people feels that she is sincerely interested in them. It is a talent. And Diana was not especially renowned for any brilliant commentary.
Or could she be like Hilary Clinton as the president’s spouse – a figure in the background at the height of her career?
Haukio compares herself with President Halonen’s husband Pentti Arajärvi. “Arajärvi has gone ahead with his own work, but has nevertheless fulfilled his role as the president’s spouse with style.”
Haukio would also like to work, even though she would not be able to stay on in the party. Perhaps she could create a new role for the president’s spouse.
“It is best to be yourself”, Haukio says.
There is no need to give up everything. There is plenty of nature all around Mäntyniemi. Nature is very important to her, she says. What does this mean?
“Nature gives a sense of proportion – and beauty, such as art. Beauty is the contact surface from which people can draw goodness and strength.”
An aesthete is speaking. She is also interested in art and antiques.
On television she likes Frazier. In music she likes Finnish jazz - Jukka Perko and Severy Pyysalo, for instance. And she likes female soloists, such as Nina Simone and Melody Gardot. And Sauli does not tell her to turn the music off.
So what does Haukio laugh at?
“I am amused by the events of everyday life. I am so absent-minded, just like Sauli – I get to laugh at myself every day.”
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 29.1.2012
ANNA-STINA NYKÄNEN / Helsingin Sanomat