Eyebrows were raised when Taylor Swift, the perky blonde 22-year-old country singer, frolicked at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., over the July 4th weekend with Maria Shriver, her 18-year-old son, Patrick, and the rest of the Kennedy clan.
Gossip flew after photos were taken of Swift hugging Patrick. Headlines shrieked “Taylor Dating A Kennedy!”
“They are not dating,” said Swift’s publicist, Paula Erickson. But the rumors persisted, despite the fact that Patrick and Swift haven’t been photographed together since the holiday weekend. Still, hanging out with the Kennedys may have its benefits. Just two weeks after strolling on Cape Cod’s beaches with Kennedy Center president Kerry Kennedy—whose children are “huge fans” of Swift’s, according to a Kennedy friend—it was announced that Taylor would be the next recipient of the “Ripple of Hope” award, given out annually by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.
Swift joins an august crowd: past recipients include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Bill Clinton, Bono and Al Gore.
Soon after the announcement, Kerry released a statement: “What strikes me most about Taylor is the work she does away from the spotlight—her leadership in the movement for arts education, her generosity to communities devastated by natural disaster, and especially the compassion she's shown as a proud defender against bullying and LGBT discrimination. As my father Robert Kennedy said to the students of South Africa in 1966, our world's hope rests with our youth. As a young person, Taylor has already accomplished so much, and I look forward to watching all that she will do to help build a brighter, more peaceful world for us all."
Perhaps not as charitably, a Kennedy insider said to The Daily Beast, “Taylor Swift, a 22-year-old humanitarian? Please. She’s getting that award because Kerry and her girls hung out with her in Hyannisport ...and the girls love her. That just says everything about Kerry.”
Either way, the admiration seems mutual.
In an interview with The New Yorker, Swift, a big fan of all things New England, said, “I’m just so obsessed with the whole history of J.F.K. and R.F.K.,” and announced that she had finished reading a nine-hundred-page book called “The Kennedy Women.” Swift also told Vogue, “The only time in my life I have ever been starstruck was when I met Caroline and Ethel Kennedy.”
But another reason for giving the award to Swift could be that it brings the RFK Center into the minds—and wallets—of a younger audience. According to a source familiar with the family, Kerry Kennedy, in particular, is concerned about how donations to the center might be affected by the adverse publicity of the recent suicide of RFK Jr.’s estranged wife, Mary Kennedy, and her own recent arrest for driving under the influence of sleep medication. Swift, a clean-cut singer from an upper-middle-class family (her father works for Merrill Lynch in Nashville) who steers clear of headline-making antics, seems to be a perfect antidote to all that.
Neither reps for Arnold Schwarzenegger nor a lawyer for the RFK Center returned emails. A rep for Maria Shriver declined to comment.