President-elect Donald Trump’s wife Melania stepped into the spotlight last week as her husband eased his way towards the presidency.
The future first lady delivered a series of speeches to GOP faithful in the closing days of the fractious 2016 presidential campaign. However, her return to the frontline after her disastrous appearance at the Republican National Convention in July was far from smooth – her first speech was met with howls of derision after she promised that if she were to become first lady, she would use her position to end online abuse.
Now, however, Melania will have the opportunity to make good on that promise and will have four years to pursue her other goals besides.
So, with Melania still somewhat of a mystery to the US and the world, what is her agenda likely to be? To help place her, here are 12 things you might not know about America’s 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.
The Clintons 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 13 ft 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 200 lbs.
She grew up in communist Yugoslavia and speaks five languages
Slovenian, 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.
She thinks people should be nicer to one another
In a rare campaign speech just five days before the election, Melania outlined her vision for what her role would be in the White House if she were to become first lady, saying she would work to combat a culture on social media that has become “too mean and too tough” and which is filled with insults based on “looks and intelligence”.
But as CNN reports, “she didn’t make any mention of the Twitter activities of her husband, Donald Trump, who has relentlessly attacked his political foes, journalists, critics and other entertainers for years with demeaning comments based on their appearances and intelligence”.
Melania, giving her first solo speech since the Republican convention, added: “It is never OK when a 12-year-old girl or boy is mocked, bullied or attacked. It is terrible when it happens on the playground, and it is absolutely unacceptable when it is done by someone with no name hiding on the internet. We have to find a better way to talk to each other.”
She continued: “We must find better ways to honour and support the basic goodness of our children, especially in social media. It will be one of the main focuses of my work, if I am privileged enough to become your first lady.”
“There was a collective gasp across the nation going, ‘Have you met your husband Donald?'” said Alice Stewart, a former Cruz campaign official, on CNN’s The Lead on Thursday. Lady Gaga, who is a Hillary Clinton supporter founded an anti-bullying nonprofit with her mother called the Born This Way Foundation.
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 she describes as traditional and hardworking, fathered a secret son before marrying the model’s mother.
Knavs agreed to pay child support after a court battle proved he was Denis Cigelnjak’s father, a claim he initially contested, but 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.
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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 favorability 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 favorability 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’.” She 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.
She was the subject of a creepy call with Howard Stern
In 1999, when her husband was running for president of the Reform party, Melania took part in a sexually charged conversation live on air with shock jock Howard Stern. The DJ had been chatting to Donald when the conversation turned to Melania.
“Let me talk to that broad in your bed,” Stern said. Melania, “apparently scantily clad and conveniently sitting nearby”, was summoned to the phone, Mother Jones reports, adding: “With Stern oozing his creepiest charm, things rapidly got weird.”
Stern insisted the former model should “put on your hottest outfit” for a night out with him and Donald and then asked her what she was wearing.
“Uh, not much,” she replied.
“Are you naked? Are you nude?” Stern said.
“Almost,” Melania said.
“Ahhh, I’ve got my pants off already,” replied Stern.
She could be the next Jackie Kennedy
Insiders warn Melania should not be underestimated. Jackie Kennedy biographer Pamela Keogh told the Daily Mail that, just like JFK’s iconic wife, Melania is “beautiful, smart and keeps her own counsel”.
As far back as 2000, Melania told the New York Times that if she were ever first lady, she would be “very traditional – like Betty Ford or Jackie Kennedy”.
Even though her husband has won the presidency, Melania is the “real winner”, says Celia Walden at the Daily Telegraph. “After all, the American dream Melania’s been living for two decades now will just keep on getting better.”
She can look forward to years of sartorial scrutiny
While her husband’s acceptance speech was being analysed by media watchers around the world, Melania’s fashion choices were being subjected to a similar level of examination – the kind of scrutiny she can surely come to expect in the years ahead.
The Slovene-American former model “looked dazzling as she took her first steps as the next First Lady of the White House”, said the Daily Express, adding that the “stunning brunette” wore a white jumpsuit with a “serious split down the front”.
Hollywood Life thought the “Slovenian stunner” looked “graceful and elegant” in her Election Day attire and devoted an entire feature to the outfit.
She discussed parenting with Michelle Obama
While their husbands met yesterday to discuss the smooth transition of presidential power, the current First Lady showed her successor around the building which will be home from January.
According to the White House, Michelle Obama gave Melania a tour of her new living quarters and the two women discussed “the unique demands of raising a family in the White House”.
“The First Lady was pleased to extend that courtesy to Mrs Trump and enjoyed the opportunity that she had to visit with her today,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. “They also had a discussion about raising kids.
Obviously the First Lady’s two daughters spent their formative years of their childhood at the White House and Mrs Trump’s son will also spend some important years of his childhood here,” he added, referring to Barron Trump, Melania and Donald’s ten-year-old son.
“That’s a rather unique childhood and the two women had an opportunity to talk about that experience and being a good parent through that experience.”
Who is Melania Trump?
Friday, November 11, 2016
Timothy A. Clary