While First Lady-in-waiting Melania Trump has enjoyed years of being only semi in the spotlight, her prominence in the public eye is about to balloon. Yes, her husband, President-elect Donald Trump, is preparing for his stint in the White House, and Melania will no doubt be readying herself for the increased exposure that’s yet to come too. But her story is already an inherently interesting one – full of controversy, success, secrets and failure.
So, where to begin? Well, Melania’s native country is Slovenia, where she was born in 1970 as Melanija Knavs. Later, she would change her name to the more English-sounding Melania Knauss. Her father, Viktor, was a car dealer, while her mother, Amalija, worked for a kids’ clothes company. She has a sister from one of Viktor’s previous relationships, and it later emerged she had a secret half-brother too.
As a teenager, Melania attended the University of Ljubljana, but she dropped out after just 12 months. Still, that didn’t stop her from claiming that she’d earned a degree in architecture and design. In fact, Melania only dropped the claim from her website in July 2016 after the media had picked up on it.
However, while her schooling may not have gone completely according to plan, Melania’s career prospects were still bright. At just 16, for example, she booked her first modeling gig for a fashion photographer in Slovenia. And two years later, she got her name on the books of an Italian modeling agency.
Melania’s modeling work took her as far as Milan, Paris and the United States. In fact, in 1996 she relocated permanently to New York City. She did, however, still have to travel home yearly to renew her visa. But eventually, in 2001, she managed to get her green card on the basis that she possessed “extraordinary ability” as a model.
That same ability would lead her to take part in a nude photoshoot for a French men’s magazine. Interestingly, the racy shoot – which its photographer described as “beauty and not porn” – makes Melania the only First Lady to have posed naked.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t until 1998, when Melania was 28 years old, that she was first introduced to Trump. At the time, the property magnate was still married to his second wife, Marla Maples. But the couple had already separated and were awaiting their divorce, so it wasn’t long before the billionaire began dating Melania.
The following year, Melania had her first real taste of public attention, thanks to radio DJ Howard Stern. At the time, The Donald had expressed an interest in running as the presidential candidate for the Reform Party, and Stern was interviewing him for his show. But when the DJ asked to speak to a skimpily dressed Melania, things got very creepy, very quickly.
For instance, after Melania admitted that she wasn’t wearing a whole lot, Stern moaned that he’d already got his pants off. He then proceeded to talk in detail about her and Donald’s sex life. Melania, however, seemed to take all it on the chin, sounding more bemused than anything. Whichever way you dressed it, though, the interview was decidedly inappropriate.
Still, the attention didn’t impact the couple’s relationship, which Donald expounded upon in 2005. “We literally have never had an argument, forget about the word ‘fight,’” he told CNN. He also gushed, “We just are very compatible. We get along.” And so, that same year, the couple finally tied the knot at probably the most lavish wedding ever witnessed.
Yes, with 350 guests – including Donald’s later presidential campaign opponent, Hillary Clinton – a $100,000 dress and a five-foot-tall wedding cake, there was nothing subtle about the Trumps’ big day. In fact, according to GQ, their guests were chowing down on caviar and Cristal. Melania’s wedding ring, meanwhile, has an estimated worth of almost $1.9million.
A year later, Melania gave birth to a son, Barron William Trump. She’s said to be a loving and devoted mom to her now 10-year-old son, who doesn’t have a nanny. And while the couple’s 24-year age difference is hard to miss, that’s apparently precisely why the Slovenian beauty finds Trump so attractive. A friend of Melania’s told GQ, “It’s about all that power and protection. I think she needed a strong man, a father figure.”
And Melania has seemingly taken much inspiration from her husband. For instance, she has followed in his footsteps to become a businesswoman in her own right. She now has her own jewelry and skincare ranges, for example, both of which have been supremely successful. In fact, according to Forbes, the latter made up to $1 million in 2014.
Aside from her business interests, however, Melania has done her best to stay out of the limelight. And when Donald considered running for president again, she told him, “Our family life will change. The three of us will change.” Of course, she wasn’t wrong – and almost inevitably, controversy ended up following her across her husband’s campaign trail.
For example, in July 2016 Melania made a rare speech at the Republican National Convention. And while she was initially applauded for her words, it didn’t take long for journalist Mike Hearn to figure out that there were more than a few similarities between her speech and one made by Michelle Obama in 2008. The ensuing furor pointed fingers in every direction possible, but ultimately, the lasting effect was increased media scrutiny on Melania.
And so came the questions about the authenticity of her “degree” and even suspicion over her immigration status. The latter, of course, was a tricky subject, considering her husband’s stance on the matter. But like Donald, Melania wasn’t about to go down without a fight. Indeed, she later tweeted a letter from her attorney that verified she’d checked each box on the immigration process.
In fact, despite her own roots, Melania actually supports the President-elect in his hardline views on immigration. “I follow the law the way it’s supposed to be,” she told Yahoo. She continued, “I never thought to stay here without papers… I went by the law, and you should do that. You should not just say, ‘Okay, let me just stay here and whatever happens, happens.’”
She’s even defended her husband when it came to his lecherous comments toward women. Indeed, while Melania confessed to some surprise at his statements, she ultimately believed that Donald was being egged on by his interviewer, NBC’s Billy Bush. In fact, she dismissed the comments as “boy talk.”
Of course, Melania doesn’t agree with everything Donald says – and she isn’t afraid to give him advice, either. For example, Donald told a crowd in Arizona that his wife has suggested he should “act presidential.” Melania, meanwhile, told CNN, “I give him my opinions, many, many times. I’m my own person, I tell him what I think.”
Now, then, Melania is mere weeks away from entering the White House as America’s 45th First Lady. Interestingly, back in 1999, when the prospect first arose, she surmised that she would be “very traditional. Like Betty Ford or Jackie Kennedy.” But considering how no-traditional her life has been so far, only time will tell whether that prediction still holds.