First Lady Melania Trump and her husband have surprised observers by enjoying three-hour long candlelit dinners together at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, according to a new book.
Contrary to rumours stemming from their seemingly frosty demeanour when in public together, the Trumps enjoy cosy evenings at a private dining table inside the so-called “winter White House”, said Laurence Leamer author of Mar-a-Lago: Inside the Gates of Power at Donald Trump’s Presidential Palace.
“What married couple spends three hours together alone at dinner? They’re there so long, other people are leaving and they’re just there,” he said.
A White House official confirmed the account, telling CNN “those two will go and sit at dinner, and they are in the most in-depth conversations and will talk and sit there for hours, literally.”
Mar-a-Lago is reportedly where the first lady chooses to spend her holidays, using the estate to spend quality time with her son, Barron and parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, as well as her husband, says Leamer.
“Mar-a-Lago is the one place where he feels truly relaxed, he feels comfortable there – and I think that’s true of her as well.”
Here are some more 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.
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 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”.
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 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 more popular than her husband
Almost a year and a half on from her husband’s inauguration, a new poll from CNN has found Melania is far more popular than the president.
The survey found she has experienced “a significant surge” in support this calendar year, with 57% of Americans now having a favourable impression of the first lady, up ten points from January.
This is the highest rating Melania has enjoyed since her husband became president, and far greater than the 47% of Americans who currently have a favourable impression of Donald Trump.
Notably, Melania has seen an increase in favourable feelings among Democrats (up 15% since January), and women (up 13% since January).
Politico says the surge in support since new year has come as “the first lady has elevated her public presence in recent months and weathered numerous reports regarding her husband’s alleged infidelity”, adding her uptick in approval comes as she has “cultivated a perception of personal and professional independence in the White House”.
2017 also saw a surge in the number of babies in the US named Melania. According to the Social Security Administration’s annual report on baby names, Melania saw the fifth-largest jump in popularity among baby girls last year.
In contrast, Donald was just one of 11 male names in 2017 to remain unchanged among newborns. In fact, there were just 594 Donalds born in 2017, less than 1% of all male births. This is a far cry from 1934, the same year Walt Disney’s Donald Duck first made an appearance, when 30,407 babies were named Donald.
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”.