An ideal husband?

He's the brashest tycoon ever to brag about his billions. But today it's the private life of Donald Trump that's transfixing the US: his third and (he says) final wedding. David Usborne reports
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The Independent US

Forgive America for its dizzy spell this weekend. It was not enough that on Thursday, George Bush celebrated his second inaugur- ation as the 43rd president, spending $44m (£24m) on fireworks and fancy dance parties. Today, more space must be made in the country's history texts. Melania Knauss, a former model from Slovenia, is to become the third wife of King Donald Trump. The price tag for today's nuptial extravaganza? That's a matter of some conjecture.

And why so much hoopla and expense to herald something that will not last? We speak here of Mr Bush, of course, who has only 1,459 days before he must vacate the White House for whoever comes next. No one would dare imply such a strict term-limit for the Knauss-Trump alliance. The 58-year-old bridegroom, who saw his two earlier marriages fizzle, first with Ivana and then with Marla, has promised to try a little harder this time.

"No really," Mr Trump, rechristened years ago by New York's gossip columnists as The Donald, told Glare magazine. "I take it seriously. I've always said marriage is the greatest institution in the world when you get it right. I've been a great father and a lousy husband. This time around I'm gong to devote more time to my wife". When he is not The Donald, he is The Trumpster. Although the gossip writers like to knock him down from time to time, there is also affection for a man who has become an icon of New York city. Out in the harbour there is the Lady Liberty. And in his three-floor suite atop Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue there is Trump. New York without the three of them would not quite be New York any more.

If there is a new Donald Trump it is not easy to find the evidence. The fashion designer Tom Ford recently advised him in the friendliest terms possible to ditch that soufflé of hair that hovers above his head like an aerosolled helmet. He refused. His recent firing as chief executive of his casino business and its filing for bankruptcy protection should have led at least to an occasional public display of humility. Forget it. Trump might even have taken himself off the front pages for a while. Good joke.

The thing about Trump is that self-promotion, even hubris, is the very fuel of his business. Keeping in the public gaze all the time - an endless soap opera that might be called Trumperama - is his personal and professional creed. It is about staying in the news and promulgating the image of confidence, regardless of circumstance. Even the three months he spent on the front pages of the New York tabloids throughout the whole Ivana-Marla debacle did not seem to trouble him. It was free advertising of his brand.

The Trump name signifies the best and the biggest; always. Say it loudly enough and often enough and it will come to be. Even when his development empire was cracked from top to bottom and ready to collapse under fantastic debt at the beginning of the 1990s, Trump continued to boast to the world that all would be fine. He even published his second book, following his first mega bestseller, The Art of the Deal, in the midst of that crisis. It was called Trump: Surviving at the Top and all of his critics laughed. Icarus was falling, they said. He did not quite, and the next book was called Trump: The Art of the Comeback. True, not everything has worked out as he imagined (without even mentioning the marriages). The Trump Shuttle, the air service between Washington DC, New York and Boston which he launched in 1989 was a notable flop. It would have crash-landed even faster if his executives had allowed him to install Italian marble in the lavatories of the planes. The ageing Boeing 727s, they pointed out, would never have taken off with the extra weight. He had to settle for gold-plated taps. When passenger numbers fell, Trump tried to lure flyers with coupons for his Atlantic City casinos. East coast business types do not much care for Atlantic City.

And deny it though he will, and does almost daily, the meltdown of his casino resort business is surely a disappointment to him. It was the opening of the luxurious Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City in 1990 - he paid a reported $1bn to build it - that almost brought him down. He rode out that crisis but now the Taj and the other Trump casinos are no longer under his control. It is true that gambling has become only a sliver of the whole Trump Organisation. What Trump does best, aside from attracting headlines, is property development. The rest is only peripheral. Even the recent burst of television activity with the American network NBC is fairly insignificant, aside from the additional publicity it generates. "I just want to build," he wrote in The Comeback. "That's what I do best."

Though Trump is deservedly described as a self-made man, he learnt his trade from his family. His grandfather, Friedrich Trump, came to America from Germany in the Gold Rush and made his money opening hotels for prospectors in the Klondike. His father, Fred Trump, took advantage of post-Second World War government subsidies to build housing in Queens and the Bronx. From Fred, Trump learnt the skill of growing buildings and finding tenants. But unlike his father, Trump was not satisfied with dowdy housing. He moved into Manhattan in the Seventies, when the island was in a slump, and vowed to build a fortune and a legacy there. His first coup was purchasing and glamorising the down-at-heel Commodore Hotel alongside Grand Central Station. He covered it with smoked glass and steel and transformed it into a Grand Hyatt. Soon after, Trump became a hero to city dwellers by rescuing and reopening the decrepit Wollman skating rink in Central Park. Trump had arrived.

His recovery after his early 1990s scare was slow but consistent.By the mid-1990s, Trump was back on top of his game. He was gutting and dressing up the old Paramount Tower on Columbus Circle, owned by General Electric, this time in golden glass. It is now the Trump International Hotel and Tower with some of the most expensive apartments in the city.

He began work, after years of frustration, on a virtual city within a city, a series of residential towers that are still rising now, on the site of the old West Side railroad yards overlooking the Hudson river. And towards the end of the decade, he built the America's tallest residential tower, the sleek, black Trump World Tower, now open and sold out opposite the United Nations.

Less predictable, surely, has been his barging into the world of reality television. Conceived by the British producer, Mark Burnett, The Apprentice pits two teams of wannabe entrepreneurs against each another, with contestants vying to snag a senior job in the Trump empire. Each episode ends with one of the contestants hearing the words "You're fired!" from Trump himself. It was the catchphrase of 2004.

But back to the Trumperama du jour: tonight's BIG wedding in Palm Beach, Florida. One good sign for Melania is that she has sufficient influence on Donald to restrain his worst showbiz instincts. He proposed that the wedding be broadcast live across the country. Trump reckoned he could rake in $25m for the rights to his third walk down the aisle, more than enough to cover the costs of entertaining the expected 350 guests. His wife-to-be demurred. Some things are meant to be private, she said, and should remain so. This is an alien notion to Trump, but he acquiesced.

Thus there will be no media inside Mar-a-Lago's Versailles-style ballroom. Nor will there be cameras, still or video, inside the nearby Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea at 7pm where the wedding vows will be exchanged. But you can be sure that the world's press will be camped outside, turning the narrow lanes of Palm Beach into a traffic jam as complicated as Trump's hairdo. Or as migraine-inducing as Melania's dress.

While the 5ft 10ins former model scored points with New York's society mavens for turning down the live broadcast proposal, she was scorned for revealing her dress on the cover of Vogue magazine. Wedding dresses are not meant to be seen by anyone, and certainly not the bridegroom, until its wearer shows up at the church, even if it is a Dior wonder confected by the designer John Galliano. Only then do we need to know, if ever, that it took 500 man-hours to sew together, probably cost $200,000 and consists of 300ft of carefully snipped satin and 1,500 crystal rhinestones. But the Vogue deal surely earned money too, as will the images of the wedding itself that will be released to a hungry world on Sunday.

Trump is accused of lacking class and no more than over the past few days after The New York Times published a sniping article on page one describing how he was leveraging his fame to get all the necessary wedding goodies at discounts in return for the publicity. Worst of all, the Times reported, he received a discount of roughly 50 per cent on a $1.5m diamond ring for Melania. Romantic? Not.

No doubt revelling in the controversy, the groom waded in. "People give me wedding rings," he protested. "I have every major diamond group throwing diamonds in my face. 'Please take our diamonds. Please! Here's a million dollars'!" What was the poor man to do?

The banning of cameras robs us of the only scientific means of calculating which of this week's events will have captivated America more, the Trump nuptials or the inauguration. My guess is that ratings for the former would have been higher. All that now remains for The Donald to do is to become President. And then he can have an inauguration, too. It sounds a like a joke, but he has flirted with running for the White House once before. So why not again? And if the marriage holds, we would have First Lady Melania as part of the bargain.