Before she met Donald Trump at the Kit Kat Klub in Manhattan and stepped into a glitzy world of limos and penthouses, diamonds and caviar, Melania Knauss lived quietly.
She grew up in one of the anonymous concrete apartment buildings of Yugoslavia when Josip Tito was its socialist leader and over-the-top capitalism, let alone full-blown Trumpism, didn’t exist.
“She never really wanted to stand out or be the center of attention,” said Mirjana Jelancic, an elementary school friend in the hilly town of Sevnica in what is now Slovenia.
Then she married The Donald.
The former high-fashion model started her own “Melania” line of jewelry, marketed a $150-an-ounce moisturizer made with caviar and wore a $200,000 Dior gown at their splashy Palm Beach wedding a decade ago.
Now, Melania Trump, 45, who shies away from speaking in public, finds herself directly in the 2016 campaign spotlight, an unconventional spouse of a most unconventional presidential candidate.
She would be the first first lady born abroad since Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, who moved into the White House in 1825. She is Trump’s third wife — another potential first for a first lady. Ronald Reagan, with a single ex-wife when he took office, so far is the only divorced U.S. president.
She might also be the most linguistically gifted first lady, as she speaks four languages, including heavily accented English. And, without doubt, she would be the only first lady to have posed in the buff while lying on a fur blanket handcuffed to a leather briefcase, as she did aboard Trump’s jet for British GQ in 2000.
“She provides great balance” to Trump, said Roger Stone, the candidate’s former political adviser who has known the couple since before they were married. She is smart — “not just an armpiece,” Stone said. “She would be the most glamourous first lady since Jackie Kennedy.”
Melania (Muh-LAH-nee-ah) Trump has been on the edges of political campaigns in the past, as in 2000, when her then-boyfriend briefly sought the Reform Party nomination. And while she has largely maintained a quiet, stand-by-your-man persona, she has at times mixed it up on political issues.
In April 2011, when Trump was considering a run for president and was one of the leading “birthers” challenging the validity of President Obama’s birth certificate and U.S. citizenship, Melania defended her husband on TV, saying he was “brilliant” and had a “genius’s mind.”
“What’s this with the birth certificate obsession? Did he ask to see yours when you met him?” asked interviewer Joy Behar.
“Do you want to see President Obama’s birth certificate or not?” Melania responded, noting that what she had seen so far was “different” than a birth certificate. “It would be very easy if President Obama would just show it,” she said. “It is not only Donald who wants to see it. It’s the American people . . . they want to see that.”
So far in the 2016 campaign season, Melania Trump has shown more of her homebody side than her provocative one. She infrequently accompanies her outspoken husband as he crisscrosses the country in his private Boeing 757. She rarely speaks to the media, and she declined to be interviewed for this article.
Friends said she prefers to stay at home — or homes, actually, in New York and Palm Beach — with the couple’s 9-year-old son, Barron. On the campaign trail, her peripatetic 69-year-old husband, who is 24 years her senior, has said that Melania is watching him on TV from home, always supportive.
“My wife said something very interesting,” Trump said last month on CNN. “She’s my pollster, okay?”
Trump, who famously obsesses over his poll numbers, said his wife gave him great approval ratings, saying, “You know, if you actually announce, you’re going to win.”
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