Melania Trump: How the steely former model went from Communist Yugoslavia to the White House

Ms Trump might keep her cards close to her chest but there is an altogether more formidable side to the soon-to-be First Lady who has been so frequently overshadowed by her larger-than-life husband

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The Independent Online

While Donald Trump is an extrovert, Melania Trump is an introvert. While the President-elect is brash and impulsive, the First Lady in waiting is composed and restrained. 

The 46-year-old, who is almost a quarter century younger than her other half, is not a self-promoter and keeps her cards close to her chest. Unlike Michelle Obama who is a bonafide social media sensation - with a burgeoning Snapchat account and 7.7 million Instagram followers and counting, the Slovenian former model is a comparative recluse. She has just 409,000 Twitter followers and rarely gives interviews to the press. In turn, the public is left with a highly glamorous, elusive sidekick to make sense of.

However, Ms Trump has had her fair share of headlines and is arguably better known for her controversies than her persona. First, there was the time she was accused of plagiarising Ms Obama after her address at the Republican National Convention. Then there was the nude photo shoot republished on the cover of The New York Post.

The woman “behind” him

Ms Trump first met Mr Trump at a Fashion Week party at the Kit Kat Klub just off Time Square in September 1998 in the days when she was called Melania Knaus. At the time the billionaire property tycoon was separated from his second wife Marla Maples.

Fast forward a few years and the pair were engaged in 2004 and married in a church ceremony in Florida the following year. They pulled out all the stops, with Ms Trump’s opulent wedding dress reported to have cost more than $100,000 (£81,000). A tad ironically, Hillary and Bill Clinton were guests at their wedding reception in Mr Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort.

“She’s shown she can be the woman behind me,” Mr Trump later boasted to gossip columnist Cindy Adams. “We’re together five years, and these five years for whatever reasons have been my most successful. I have to imagine she had something to do with that.”

The first First Lady to be born in a communist country 

Born in Slovenia when it was part of Yugoslavia, Ms Trump will be the first First Lady to be born in a communist nation. She will also be the first First Lady to be born abroad since Louisa Adams who moved into the White House in 1825.

The then-small-town girl began her modelling career when she was just 16 and signed with a modelling agency in Milan at the age of 18. She also graduated from a design high school and attended the University of Ljubljana before relocating to Italy and later Paris for modelling.

Since then she has gone on to appear on the cover of everything from Harper's Bazaar to Vanity Fair, GQ, and more. She now has her own skin care line and jewellery line, which was fleetingly sold from the distinctly unglamorous QVC shopping channel before moving onto high-end stores. She speaks five languages - Slovenian, Serbian, English, German and French.

She is insistent she does not want people to feel sorry for her 

While it is easy for Ms Trump to disappear into the shadow of her larger-than-life husband, it would foolish to underestimate her: there is an undeniable strength - steeliness even - to Ms Trump’s cordially polite exterior. While many fall into the trap of feeling sorry for her, she is insistent she does not want pity or sympathy.

In an extensive interview with CNN about the sexual assault allegations women have launched against her husband, which he has strenuously denied, she said: “People talk about me like, ‘Oh, Melania, oh poor Melania.’ Don’t feel sorry for me, don’t feel sorry for me. I can handle everything.”

Ms Trump condemned her husbands sexually aggressive comments about women after the tapes were leaked. In the unearthed 2005 recording, Mr Trump could be heard boasting about using his fame to grab women by the "p***y". He later issued a 90-second long apology for the remarks.

“The words my husband used are unacceptable and offensive to me," she said in a statement. "This does not represent the man that I know. He has the heart and mind of a leader. I hope people will accept his apology, as I have”.

She is devoted to Barron Trump

And the reason she has often steered clear of the limelight? It arguably has something to do with Barron Trump. Her and Mr Trump’s 10-year-old son - the one who looked like he was about to nod off as his father gave his victory speech.

“My husband is travelling all the time. Barron needs somebody as a parent, so I am with him all the time,” she told People magazine in September of 2015. She has also cited her 10-year-old son Barron as part of her reasoning for taking up the cause of anti-bullying.

This brings us to Ms Trump’s politics - or moreover her lack of politics thus far. While Ms Obama has campaigned for access to education for girls and for veterans and against Mr Trump himself, she has yet to find a campaign of choice. No doubt this is something which will likely change once Ms Trump is in the White House and privy to the same pressures of all First Ladies. 

However, one of the few issues she has spoken up about is bullying online - an ironic choice given her hubby’s apparent appetite for firing off provocative tweets at ungodly hours.

“Our culture has gotten too mean and too rough, especially to children and teenagers,” Ms Trump recently said at a campaign rally.