Melania Trump: Ten shoking secret you need to know about her
From nude photoshoots to surprising linguistic prowess and a secret half-brother back home in Slovenia
The United States will have a new first lady in January, but despite more than a year of heavy scrutiny for Donald Trump, we still know surprisingly little about his wife, Melania.
She kept a fairly low profile during the Republican’s election campaign, aside from a disastrous speech at the Republican National Convention in July, which was found to be partially plagiarised from current First Lady Michelle Obama.
Commentators speculated as to why Melania could not be seen stumping for her husband on the campaign trail across the country, as past wives have done.
Perhaps the campaign feared her status as a foreigner – complete with a heavy accent – would undermine Trump’s appeal to anti-immigrant voters. If so, they were probably wrong, says Vox, whose polling of US voters found “European immigrants are perceived very differently from Latin American or Middle Eastern immigrants”.
Trump’s chequered marital history could also have been to blame. Melania will be “the first third wife to take up residence in the White House”, says i24 News, and giving her a high-profile position in the campaign would risk increased media focus on Trump’s two previous marriages and multiple infidelities.
The world will probably find out much more about Melania Trump over the next four years. But, for now, here are 21 things you might not know about the next first lady.
Melania is Donald’s third wife
The former Melania Knauss started dating Donald Trump in 1998, married him in 2005 and gave birth to their son, Barron, the following year.
Before Melania, Donald was married for a few years in the 1990s to Marla Maples, a television personality, former beauty queen and mother to their daughter Tiffany Trump. The couple met while the businessman was still with his first wife, Czechoslovakian Ivana Zelnickova, who he had married in 1977. They have three children – Ivanka, Eric and eldest child Donald Trump Jr, who, at 38, is eight years younger than his stepmother Melania.
Ivana and Donald were leading socialites in New York during the 1980s, but their marriage ended with a very public divorce in 1992. Absolutely Fabulous star Jennifer Saunders says some of the inspiration for the show’s fashionista Patsy Stone, played by Joanna Lumley, came from Ivana, who often sports a high blonde beehive.
Melania, then 28, was there at the invitation of Paolo Zampolli, the Italian businessman who set her up as a model in the US. The property tycoon – future husband Donald, then a notorious playboy – had arrived with another woman, but he sent her to the bathroom so he could chat up the model.
However, Melania knew his reputation so when he asked for her number she refused and instead asked him for his details.
She told GQ magazine: “If I give him my number, I’m just one of the women he calls.”
She waited to see if he would give her a personal or a business number, to assess what his intentions might be. “It tells you a lot from the man what kind of number he gives you,” she said.
Hillary Clinton went to her wedding
Bill and Hillary Clinton were among the 350 guests when Melania and Donald tied the knot at the groom’s landmark Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. According to GQ, the bride wore a $100,000 Dior dress with 1,500 crystals, which took a “legendary” 550 hours to make. It had a 13ft train and the bride wore a 16ft veil. However, the gown was so difficult to walk in that Melania changed into a Vera Wang hand-ruched silk tulle Grecian dress for the poolside after-party. Her 12-carat, emerald-cut Graff wedding ring is said to be worth £1.5m.
Melania’s sister, Ines, was the maid of honour and Donald’s two sons, Donald Jr and Eric, served as best men. Guests including Heidi Klum, Barbara Walters and Simon Cowell “slurped caviar and Cristal in the shadow of a five-foot-tall Grand Marnier wedding cake”, says GQ, while the Hollywood Reporter says the seven-tier “chef-d’oeuvre” weighed more than 200lbs.
She grew up in communist Yugoslavia and speaks five languages
Slovene, English, French, Serbian and German, if you want to know. That linguistic prowess could come in handy at White House functions, but it has been suggested her thick accent is the reason she makes few public speeches alongside her immigrant-bashing husband.
Melania was raised away from the glamour of New York high society in a concrete tower block in then Yugoslavia during the rule of Marshal Josip Tito. Now that her husband has become president, Melania is set to become the first first lady to be born in a communist nation and only the second to be born abroad, after Louisa Adams, the English wife of sixth president John Quincy, who served from 1825 to 1829.
Her native Slovenia wants to help the US’s relationship with Russia
Melania’s home country appears to believe her rise to the White House could be an opportunity to increase its own standing in the world. Tiny Slovenia, with its population of two million, has positioned itself as a possible mediator between the US and Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who rarely makes trips to western states, has visited Slovenia twice and the two nations have a comfortable relationship with one another.
Prime Minister Miro Cerar told the Associated Press last year: “If the United States and Russia give some initiative in this way, Slovenia could become a bridge between the two powers.”
Donald’s apparent soft spot for Russia may mean Slovenia’s services are not required.
However, Cerar said he had spoken to Melania in a phone call following the Trump election victory, both chatting in their native tongue.
She then passed the phone to her husband, added the PM, and their conversation “touched very briefly” on possible Slovenian mediation efforts, although “there was no specific statement about that”.
She has a secret half-brother
While preparing a profile of the incoming first lady for GQ, reporter Julia Ioffe made a startling discovery – Melania’s father, Victor Knavs, who the former model describes as traditional and hardworking, fathered a secret son before marrying Melania’s mother.
Knavs agreed to pay child support after a court battle proved he was Denis Cigelnjak’s father, a claim he initially contested. However, he has never contacted his son nor acknowledged his existence. Now aged 50, Cigelnjak still lives in the family’s native Slovenia.
Melania initially said the reports were false but later, confronted with court documents, claimed she had misunderstood the question and had known about her half-brother “for years”.
She is the only first lady to have posed nude
Three years before she met Donald Trump, Melania posed nude alongside for a French men’s monthly magazine. The “bombshell” photo set, obtained by the New York Post, shows her lying naked in a bed alongside Scandinavian model Emma Eriksson.
Photographer Jarl Ale de Basseville, who took the pictures, says the images are “beauty and not porn”, adding: “I always loved women together because I have been with a lot of women who desired the menage a trois.”
An unnamed insider said Melania behaved “like a true professional” during the shoot and was “charming throughout”.
Donald, meanwhile, said: “In Europe, pictures like this are very fashionable and common.”
She is the least popular presidential spouse since Hillary
According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, Melania is the least popular presidential candidate spouse since Hillary Clinton.
A survey on the spouses and running mates of both presidential candidates saw Clinton’s husband, former president Bill, named most popular, with more than half of respondents having a positive opinion of him.
Clinton’s prospective vice president, Tim Kaine, was next with a net favourability rating – those viewing him positively minus those viewing him negatively – of plus-19. Republican Mike Pence came in third, with plus-17, and Melania languished in last place, getting a net favourability rating of just plus-one.
“Melania Trump’s popularity is lower than nearly any other recent candidate’s spouse during an election year,” the National Post says. “The most popular spouse was Barbara Bush, George H W Bush’s wife. Michelle Obama was also viewed fairly positively at about this stage of 2012, though a little worse four years earlier, when she wasn’t as well known.”
She supports her husband’s hardline stance on immigration
Although it’s not surprising for a candidate’s wife to back her husband’s policies, some were taken aback by Melania’s enthusiasm for the Republican’s tough rhetoric on migrants, having immigrated to the US herself.
“I follow the law,” she told an MSNBC interviewer. “I never thought to stay here without papers.”
She was equally unfazed when pressed about Donald’s comments on “criminals” crossing the border into the US. “I don’t feel he insulted the Mexicans,” she said. “He said ‘illegal immigrants’.”
But she does wish Donald would ‘act more presidential’
During a rally in Arizona, Donald told the crowd both his wife and his eldest daughter, Ivanka, don’t entirely approve of his behaviour.
“My wife and my daughter said to me, ‘Act presidential. Act presidential,'” he said.
Melania insists she isn’t shy when it comes to giving her husband political advice. “I give him my opinions, many, many times,” she told CNN.
“I don’t agree with everything that he says but, you know, that is normal,” she added. “I’m my own person, I tell him what I think. I’m standing very strong on the ground on my two feet and I’m my own person. And I think that’s very important in the relationship.”
Asked what habit she would like to see her husband give up, Melania didn’t have to ponder her answer for long. “The tweeting,” she said.
On her own Twitter account, Melania mostly sticks to the blandest of updates – the New York skyline features heavily, as do photos of food and fashion, alongside a few innocuous snaps from the campaign trail.
She is raising her son as ‘Little Donald’
Ten-year-old Barron apparently loves wearing a suit and tie and playing golf with his dad. He is also said to share his father’s love of bossing people around. “He fired nannies, fired housekeepers,” Melania said in a 2011 interview, adding that he quickly hired them back.
Barron is closer in age to his nephews and nieces than his own siblings and spends more time with his mother because of his father’s busy travel schedule.
“He is a very strong-minded, very special, smart boy. He is independent and opinionated and knows exactly what he wants. Sometimes I call him ‘Little Donald’. He is a mixture of us in looks, but his personality is why I call him Little Donald,” Melania told Parenting.com.
Donald has described his wife as an “incredible” mother. “She loves her son, Barron, so much and I have to say, she will make an unbelievable first lady,” he said prior to his election.
Slovenians are very excited about her
Regardless of how they feel about her husband’s politics, the prospect of a Slovenian woman in the White House seems to have gone down well with her compatriots back home.
“She used to be one of us and we are really happy for her,” Nusa Vidmar, who owns a cake shop near the apartment building where Melania grew up, told Voice of America.
NBC News reports that a café in the town now serves a ‘Melanija cake’ in her honour, “white like her clothes on Election Night and topped by a golden-coloured white-chocolate leaf.”
Many Slovenians are simply excited to see the small Central European nation on the world stage.
“What is Slovenia? Is that a food? Is that a car? Nobody knows it’s a country,” said Jakob Susteric, who runs a medical company in the capital, Ljubliana.
“This is a big opportunity that our two million nation basically gets its place in Europe, in the world,” he said.
Ivanka may take her place as first lady
After Melania’s announcement that she wishes to stay in New York City until her son Barron finishes school, there has been speculation that Donald’s daughter Ivanka Trump may take her place as the acting first lady of the United States until Melania moves to Washington.
Ivanka – daughter of Donald and Ivana Trump – was allowed to sit in on her father’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in November, and it has been speculated that her retreat from the vice president position at Trump Corporation may indicate that she is being readied for a more political position.
While some may find the temporary appointment a little unusual, especially after the president-elect’s comments on Ivanka in the past, Donald Trump would not be the first president to have someone other than his wife serve as first lady. Thomas Jefferson appointed Martha, his daughter, as first lady following the death of his wife, while Martin Van Buren appointed his daughter-in-law Angelica after also becoming a widower.