Donald and Melania Trump have arrived in the UK on the president’s first ever state visit, and they can expect a right royal welcome.
While the couple’s first encounter with the Queen – an afternoon tea at Windsor Castle during Trump’s “working visit” to the UK in 2018 – lasted only half an hour, this week’s state visit will be a far grander affair.
The Queen will formally welcome the couple this afternoon with a private luncheon, followed by a white-tie state banquet at Buckingham Palace this evening, with a reciprocal dinner at the US ambassador’s residence tomorrow night attended by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.
President Trump drew criticism during last year’s visit for breaching royal protocol by walking ahead of the Queen, but this time around, “all eyes will be on Melania Trump as she navigates the often tricky waters of palace traditions, royalty and impressing one of the longest reigning monarchs in modern history”, says CNN.
Luckily, the minutiae of diplomatic protocol are “something Melania Trump pays attention to with diligence, even if her husband does not”, says the broadcaster.
Here are some surprising facts you may not know about the first lady of the United States:
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 is the second foreign-born first lady
Now that her husband has become president, Melania is the first first lady to be born in a communist nation and just the second to hail from overseas, borns then-Yugoslavia (modern-day Slovenia) during the rule of Marshal Josip Tito.
The first foreign first lady was Louisa Adams, the wife of John Quincy Adams, who served as the sixth president of the United States from 1825 to 1829. But according to The New Yorker, Louisa Adams “doesn’t really count, as her father was an American and from a politically connected family that hopped back and forth between England and its newly liberated colonies”.
She 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.
She has a secret half-brother
While preparing a profile of the 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”.
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 is the first Catholic in the White House since the Kennedys
Following her visit to the Vatican earlier this year when Pope Francis blessed a rosary for her, Melania’s spokeswoman confirmed the First Lady is a practising Catholic.
But there are still lots of unknowns, “as this first lady has managed until now to keep her religious practices under wraps” says the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Good Housekeeping claims she was secretly baptised as a child, as the atheist Communist regime in her native Slovenia officially banned the practice of religion.
However, the Daily Mail says it is “unclear when Mrs Trump became a Catholic”. Growing up as the daughter of a Communist Party member in rural Slovenia, her family maintained the outward appearances of being atheists, according to people in her childhood village of Sevnica who spoke to DailyMail.com in late 2015.
Accordingly, the paper says Melania and her sister were not baptised and did not make their First Holy Communion with other children their age.
Donald Trump is a life-long Presbyterian, and they were married in a Florida Episcopal church.
Whatever her history, Melania is the first Catholic to live in the White House since JFK and his wife Jacqueline in the early 1960s.
She stands above past first ladies – literally
At 5ft 11in (180cm), former model Melania towers above the average woman, and also dwarfs most of her predecessors in the White House. Only Michelle Obama and Eleanor Roosevelt can match her height, making the three women tied for the title of tallest first lady.
She didn’t want Donald to be President
One of the more explosive revelations to emerge from Michael Wolff’s tell-all book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House was that neither Donald or his wife, expected, or wanted him to become president:
“Shortly after 8 p.m. on Election Night, when the unexpected trend — Trump might actually win — seemed confirmed, Don Jr. told a friend that his father, or DJT, as he calls him, looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears — and not of joy.”
The plan, claims Wolff, was for Trump to “win by losing” so he could launch his own TV channel, his campaign’s Chief Executive Steve Bannon would become “the de facto head of the tea-party movement” and his wife, “who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching”.
He goes on to say the inauguration was not much better, with Donald Trump “angry that A-level stars had snubbed the event, disgruntled with the accommodations at Blair House, and visibly fighting with his wife, who seemed on the verge of tears”.
The book also insinuates the first couple have separate bedrooms, the first pair to do so since the Kennedys.
In response to the claims, the First Lady’s spokeswoman hit back, saying “Mrs Trump supported her husband’s decision to run for president and in fact, encouraged him to do so. She was confident he would win and was very happy when he did”.
She is the only first lady to have posed nude
Three years before she met Donald, Melania posed nude 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 sued the Daily Mail for reporting on escort allegations
Earlier this year, Daily Mail paid an undisclosed sum to Melania after it reported on false allegations that she once worked as an escort.
Its double-page spread, published last August, during the US election campaign, was titled: “Racy photos and troubling questions about his wife’s past that could derail Trump”. It was later taken down from the website.
Melania filed a libel claim in February reportedly seeking damages of $150m (£120m).
A statement read out at the Royal Courts of Justice in April said the article included “false and defamatory claims… which questioned the nature of her work as a professional model and republished allegations that she provided services beyond simply modelling”.
It continued: “The allegations strike at the heart of the claimant’s personal integrity and dignity.”
The Daily Mail published a retraction and an apology in both the newspaper and on its website, saying: “We accept that these allegations about Mrs Trump are not true and we retract and withdraw them. We apologise to Mrs Trump for any distress that our publication caused her. To settle Mrs Trump’s two lawsuits against us, we have agreed to pay her damages and costs.”
The amount paid was not disclosed, but it is understood to be around $3m (£2.4m) which would cover her legal actions the Daily Mail in the UK and the US.
She was once ‘sworn in as US president’
Years before her arrival at the White House, Melania appeared in a low-budget Slovenian fashion advert in which she was sworn in as president of the United States.
The then 23-year-old model was seen leaving a plane, being escorted by the Secret Service, chatting with reporters and going through an inauguration ceremony.
The ad, which has been rediscovered by the US Spanish-language TV network Univision, was intended to depict “the first woman president of the United States on the day of her inauguration”.
Jozica Brodaric, one of the ad’s scriptwriters, said: “It is the most extraordinary historical coincidence. [Melania] looked refined, elegant, really presidential.”
In “another bizarre moment of foreshadowing” in the advert, Melania is seen signing a document on immigration, the Daily Star says.
Natalija Gorscak, director of Slovenian National Television, says: “In the document, she is approving three people to cross the border between two countries, it’s an immigration document.”
According to the Daily Star, the advertisement has “led to speculation that the reason [Melania] is so miserable being the President’s wife is because she was actually destined to be president herself”.