Toggle menus
Toggle search

First Lady Melania Trump: 16 things you didn't know about Donald's wife

Jan 16, 2017

From nude photoshoots to surprising linguistic prowess and a secret half-brother back home in Slovenia

The US will have a new first lady this month, 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 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 be 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.Or was she simply not interested in the spotlight?
The world will probably find out much more about Melania Trump over the next four years. But, for now, here are 16 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. 
She refused to give Trump her number 
The real estate mogul asked Melania for her number at a party in New York in 1998 – and she said no. 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.Trump, it seems, was serious, giving her "all of his numbers", she revealed. 
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". 
Designers are battling to dress her for the inauguration
"So much for the boycott!" says the Daily Mail. "Designers [are] at war to dress Melania Trump for the inauguration after liberal dressmakers insisted the fashion pack would desert the new First Lady."
According to the tabloid, several major designers, including Zac Posen, B Michael America, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, are interested in dressing the first lady-in-waiting for her husband's swearing-in ceremony.
"Any designer should be proud," Tommy Hilfiger said.
Harlem-based designer B Michael told New York socialite Jean Shafiroff, a friend of Trump, "he'd be honoured" to work with the incoming first lady.
He added: "Any designer who dresses her will get enormous press."
However, some designers have shunned the former model.
Tom Ford said Melania was "not really my image", while Sophie Theallet, who often dressed Michelle Obama, took a firmer stance. 
"As one who celebrates and strives for diversity, individual freedom and respect for all lifestyles, I will not participate in dressing or associate myself in any way with the next first lady," she said.
"The rhetoric of racism, sexism, and xenophobia unleashed by her husband's presidential campaign are incompatible with the shared values we live by."
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 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."Lady Gaga led a chorus of critics who said Melania decrying bullying is "pure hypocrisy".
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.The excitement was most evident in Sevnica, a small, industrial town which has found new fame in recent months as the birthplace of the next First Lady."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.
More than 100,000 New Yorkers want her to leave the city
After her husband won the presidential election, Melania announced that contrary to convention, she intended to remain in New York rather than move the family into the White House.The former model said she would prefer to stay in the gold-gilt penthouse apartment of Trump Tower, the 58-storey skyscraper on Fifth Avenue, until Barron's private school in Manhattan starts its summer holiday.It's estimated it will cost New Yorkers $1m (£870,000) a day to keep her safe.The announcement sparked the launch of a petition for Melania to leave the city. "The New York taxpayers refuse to pay over $1 million a day so she can stay," it reads. "If this decision has been made, between the two of them they should be the ones to pay for it. Not New York taxpayer dollars that could be used on roads, schools, transit, sanitation, new jobs and other expenses that the city has."It continues: "This is what tax dollars should be used for, improvements for the city and all the people of the city, not just one."The petition has now been signed by more than 135,000 people.According to author Kate Andersen Brower, who wrote First Ladies about the women who have occupied the White House, Melania's plan shows she is going to be an unconventional first lady."I think that Melania Trump not moving to Washington for the first few months at least is really tremendous and unprecedented," Anderson Brower told ABC news.
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.
Sign up for our daily newsletter
Sign me up