Jeri Thompson, wife of GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson, shakes off the "trophy wife" label critics have tagged her with for being 24 years younger than her husband.

"It's hard not to be defensive," she told People magazine in her first solo interview. "To think back on how hard you've worked, and all anybody thinks about is that you're a trophy wife."

In a story for Monday's issue, Thompson said: "I almost think they had to fabricate that trophy-wife stuff because there's nothing interesting to say."

Jeri Thompson is a Naperville, Ill., native who has worked for the Republican National Committee, on Capitol Hill, and at a public relations-lobbying firm.

Thompson, 41, says she met her future husband at a Nashville supermarket on July 4, 1996, a few years before she moved to Washington. To hear her tell it, the then-U.S. senator from Tennessee was standing in line with a can of beanie weenies and half a premade tuna fish sandwich.

"I looked at him and just said, 'I'm so sorry,"' Thompson says, adding that he carried her groceries to the car, and she invited him to a friend's party that night.

Years later, she tells People: "I was never an older-man-dater kind of girl before."

They married in June 2002, and have a daughter, Hayden, who turns 4 in October, and a son, Samuel, approaching 1.