Maria Shriver’s annual women’s conference has always been an A-list affair, and this year’s event is no different.
Cindy McCain, Elizabeth Edwards, Katie Couric, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and actress Kelly Preston are among the featured speakers. But the guest likely to draw the most attention is a relative newcomer to the media spotlight — reality TV personality Kate Gosselin.
California’s first lady says she invited the star of TLC’s “Jon & Kate Plus 8” at the suggestion of her teenage daughters who watch the show.
The invitation was sent five months ago. That was before Gosselin announced that she and her husband, the parents of 5-year-old sextuplets and 8-year-old twins, were splitting after 10 years of marriage.
“I think her life has certainly changed dramatically, but so be it,” Shriver told The Associated Press on Wednesday in a telephone interview. “I think that’s the beauty of this conference — to have Madeleine Albright and Kate Gosselin at the same place.”
Gosselin’s speaking role will be relatively minor. She will have 15 minutes on a small stage at a fair where she will be selling her book, “Eight Little Faces: A Mom’s Journey.”
Shriver described Gosselin as “a real interesting girl” who is facing the challenge of raising eight children and coping with “a lost marriage.”
Laurie Goldberg, a spokeswoman for the TLC show, declined to comment about Gosselin’s decision to attend Shriver’s forum.
The show is on hiatus until Aug. 3 so the family can “regroup,” according to the network. When it returns this fall, Jon Gosselin has said the show will portray the couple’s new arrangement, in which the children live at the couple’s sprawling Pennsylvania home while the parents alternate their stays.
Shriver’s conference, to be held Oct. 26-27 in Long Beach, has become an annual showcase of women’s issues and success stories.
This year’s guest list includes well-known women from the world of politics, sports and entertainment, including Olympic swimming champion Dara Torres and race car driver Danica Patrick.
Preston has agreed to be interviewed for the first time about the death of her 16-year-old son with husband John Travolta. Both actors have kept low profiles since Jett Travolta died following a seizure in January.
Shriver said she will interview Preston as part of a panel on grief, along with Elizabeth Edwards and actress Susan Saint James, whose teenage sons were killed in accidents. The panel will be the only session not broadcast on the Internet.
“All three of them lost sons. All are at different stages of the grief,” Shriver said.
The women’s conference began 20 years ago under former Gov. George Deukmejian to help female small-business owners. Shriver has turned it into a star-studded affair and her signature event as first lady.
Past guests have included exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, U2 frontman Bono, financial guru Suze Orman and Martha Stewart.
The event also has drawn controversy. In 2004, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was criticized after he mocked nurses who unveiled a protest banner during his speech, prompting him to remark that special interests didn’t like him “because I’m always kicking their butts.” He later acknowledged that he should not have made the comment.
Schwarzenegger, who as governor has struggled to win approval for many of his reforms, also is scheduled to speak at this year’s conference, titled “Architects of Change.” Shriver said her husband, like many politicians, business owners and nonprofit groups, is facing tough challenges trying to deal with a national recession.
“There isn’t a policy leader in this country at any level that isn’t having a challenging time,” Shriver said. “To single out Arnold as having a challenging time is not factually correct.”
Tickets for the main forum range from $125 to $200 and go on sale July 13.