Charismatic French chemist cuts chic figure

From Saturday's Globe and Mail
Saturday, January 04 – Online Edition, Posted at 12:17 PM EST

Brigitte Boisselier holds two PhDs in chemistry. She dresses in typically fashionable French style, is articulate in front of the camera, and runs a human cloning company.

And when space aliens come back to earth some time before 2035, Ms. Boisselier will be their hostess, showing them around the planet and getting them settled in a new embassy, the preferred location of which is Jerusalem.

Brimming with calm confidence, she wears a long mane: Half of it is white, the rest an orangey-red, suggesting that even her hair colour is not of this planet.

Raised Catholic in a farming family in Eastern France, Dr. Boisselier is a bishop in the Raelian movement, a sect that believes humans are clones of aliens. Had she not declared that the first human clone had been born to a 31-year-old American woman on Boxing Day, few would care about the sect and its UFO theme park in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Now the 46-year-old is a poster girl for human cloning.

At the news conference Dec. 27, Dr. Boisselier entered the room to make the announcement, hardly looking bookish: She wore dark glasses, heavy pink lip gloss and a way-too-tight dark skirt with black lace stockings. Around her neck was the Raelian silver medallion, combining the Star of David and a snowflake, symbolizing infinite time and space.

Describing it as her day, Dr. Boisselier promised proof in the form of DNA testing of the baby, nicknamed Eve.

The contrast between her academic background and her leadership role in a bizarre cult has prompted many to wonder: Who is Brigitte Boisselier?

Thomas Kaenzig, vice-president of Clonaid, says she is a revolutionary who has paid dearly for her beliefs, losing jobs and the custody of her youngest daughter, Iphigenie, now 13.

"I'm always very impressed by her charisma. I'm really impressed by how much she has devoted to mankind," Mr. Kaenzig said in a telephone interview from Las Vegas. "She doesn't drive big cars or live in a big house. We really want to offer this service on a worldwide basis and help the people out there."

One of the people she was trying to help is Mark Hunt, a Charleston lawyer, a former West Virginia state legislator and, unknown to many, a grieving father coping with the loss of a baby son.

Dr. Boisselier was conducting research on how to produce a genetic replica of Mr. Hunt's son, Andrew, who died at 10 months of age after surgery for a congenital heart defect. Mr. Hunt is said to have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to equip a laboratory in Nitro, W. Va., but to have pulled out of the project, losing faith in Dr. Boisselier in 2001 because she became, as he put it to one reporter, a "press hog."

Indeed, as president of Clonaid, her biography boasts of her ability to get media attention for their cause.

"Her determination and dedication to reach this revolutionary scientific goal has led her to be featured on most major media networks worldwide including CNN, ABC's 20/20, 60 Minutes," among others, it said. "Through these interviews, she was given the opportunity to share her views in the defence of human cloning."

According to her former husband, Panos Cocolios: "She's the baby of newspapers and television."

"The situation with Ms. Boisselier, it's very particular; she likes an idea, she spent a lot of time with that, but this is not my problem; this is not my story," he said in a telephone interview from his home in a town east of Paris.

Dr. Boisselier draws her salary as president of Clonaid, which also operates Clonapet, a service for cloning companion animals, and Insureaclone, which preserves DNA from clients for use in cloning. Clonaid was founded by the Raelians shortly after a sheep nicknamed Dolly was cloned in Scotland in 1997. It calls itself the world's first human cloning company and is based in Las Vegas.

News of Dr. Boisselier's connection to space aliens was a surprise to Dr. Karl Kadish, a chemistry professor at the University of Houston, who directed her doctoral studies in analytical chemistry in the 1980s.

"She got a very good PhD in three years, which is quite fast; usually it would take a lot longer," Dr. Kadish said in a telephone interview from Houston. "I wouldn't say she was super brilliant, but she was a very good student."

After completing her second PhD in Houston in 1985, Dr. Boisselier worked at the multinational company L'air liquide, where she led a research project on reversible oxygen binding and most recently became vice-director of research. She has said she was fired in 1997 after she came out in favour of human cloning in the Paris daily Le Monde; the company says she was asked to leave her post because her private activity, a leadership position within the Raelian movement, was taking too much time away from her job.

Another setback was to come. She lost custody of Iphigenie, the youngest of her three children, to Mr. Cocolios. She says she was punished for her religious beliefs.

Her other two children live in Montreal. Marina Cocolios, an art student, has said she is ready to be a surrogate for one of the clones; son Thomas Cocolios, a physics student at McGill University, has no involvement with the Raelians.

"My mother has her life, and I have mine," Mr. Cocolios wrote in an e-mail. "What I think about this is of my concern and, you know, my mother is just a mother for me."

Though those closest to her are not keen to discuss her beliefs, there are many who wonder how this highly educated woman with a keen mind decided to change course and advocate that a four-foot, olive-skinned spaceman will return to earth?

"I am not the kind of girl who can trust a theory based on one person," Dr. Boisselier told The Miami Herald. But when she heard Claude Vorilhon speak one December in 1993, she says she just knew "he wasn't lying."

The Raelians believe that space creatures chose Mr. Vorilhon, a onetime French journalist and auto racer, as their leader. He calls himself Rael and says he was twice abducted by aliens.

The aliens, Mr. Vorilhon has said, have olive skin, long dark hair and almond-shaped eyes, created the human race in their laboratories and have kept in touch via messengers including Buddha, Moses and Jesus.

The Raelians boast some 55,000 members in 84 nations; Quebec has granted religious status to the movement. Its representatives have conducted condom distribution programs aimed at Canadian teenagers, while also promoting free love reminiscent of the 1960s.

By 2000, Dr. Boisselier was a visiting professor at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. She did not have much experience teaching, but with her doctorates from the universities of Dijon and Houston, she had an impressive education.

She would drive around campus in a Jeep Cherokee, and while she was popular with undergraduate students, no one was aware of her out-of-this-world views, said Dr. Jinnie Garrett, biology chairwoman at Hamilton College.

"She has passed as a legitimate chemist," Dr. Garrett said. "Her links to the Raelian movement and cloning were just complete news to us, and she never did any biology or cloning."

She left her job at Hamilton College in 2001, in effect cutting her two-year visiting appointment in half, after her profile was published in The New York Times.

Dr. Garrett remembers Dr. Boisselier when she was a visiting professor. She had a "French chic kind of look. She was sophisticated French, more dressy than most of us are."

She added: "You are talking to this intelligent, very sophisticated, elegant person and then you find out the conversation has gone to this strange place and it's like: How did this happen?"

That strange place seems, quite literally, to be outer space.

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