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, 16 facts for 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 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.
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 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
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 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.
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.
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 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 say Melania decrying bullying is “pure hypocrisy”.
Comedians love her
Melania has become top fodder for shows such as Saturday Night Live, in which she has been impersonated by Cecily Strong for a sketch called Melania Moments.
After she was accused of plagiarising Michelle Obama’s address from the 2008 Democratic convention, Melania was also spoofed by actor Laura Benanti on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
The Broadway star did an uncanny impression of Melania’s Republican national convention speech, switching her words for familiar lines from Braveheart, Dr Seuss, the Beastie Boys and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
“This is truly the best of times, it is the worst of times,” she says, mimicking the former model. “I did not plagiarise my speech last night. I would never do such a thing. I would not, could not, with a goat. I would not, could not, on a boat.”
US talk show host Jimmy Kimmel also got in on the act, imagining a conversation between Melania and former president Bill Clinton when they met ahead of the first presidential debate between their two spouses.
She owns a jewellery and skincare line
In 2010, Melania launched a jewellery collection on shopping channel QVC. Although the collection sold out in 45 minutes, the Kansas City Star notes that her first caller was her own husband, Donald.
QVC is understood to no longer be in partnership with Melania Trump, but Forbes says the line is still making money for the Trumps.
Forbes adds that she launched a line of skincare using French sturgeon eggs in 2013. Melania Marks Skincare made between $100,000 and $1,000,000 in 2014.
She was ‘surprised’ by her husband’s lewd comments
Melania has defended Donald over a 2005 tape in which he makes lewd comments about women. The president-elect faced allegations of sexual misconduct after he admitted trying to “f***” a married woman and claimed being a TV star meant “you can do anything” to women because they “let you do it”.
“Grab them by the p****,” he says in the Access Hollywood recording. “You can do anything.”
In her first interview after the tape was released, Melania told CNN she was “surprised” by her husband’s language, but claimed he had been “egged on” by NBC host Billy Bush to say “dirty and bad stuff”.
“I said to my husband that, you know, the language was inappropriate. It’s not acceptable. And I was surprised, because that is not the man that I know,” she said.
Melania dismissed the comments as “boy talk”, saying: “I accept his apology. I hope the American people will accept it as well. And it was many, many years ago.”
Nor would she describe her husband’s claims as sexual assault, she said: “No, that’s not sexual assault. He didn’t say he did it.”
She discussed parenting with Michelle Obama
While Donald met Barack Obama to discuss the smooth transition of presidential power in the White House following the election, Michelle Obama showed her successor around the building that will be home from January.
Michelle apparently 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.
“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.”
She may not move into the White House immediately
Despite her reported conversations about parenting with Michelle Obama, it has been announced that Melania and son Barron will not be joining Donald Trump immediately when he moves into the White House in January. Instead, they will remain in New York for a number of months.
Spokesman Jason Miller said: “No official statement has been released by the Trump family regarding transition timing, but like any parents they are concerned about pulling their ten-year-old son out of school in the middle of the year.”
While the Trumps have made it clear that this is to avoid forcing Barron to change schools midway through an academic year, the announcement has stirred up controversy among some sections of the public. The BBC reports one Twitter user as saying: “First Family resides in White House as a symbol of our country to us and and the world. Melania Trump’s decision is appalling.”