How does a shy ex-model make her way from Slovenia to, just maybe, the White House? To Melania Trump—and to the people who know her back home—her journey to marrying The Donald is like a fairy tale, or a too-crazy-to-believe rom-com. It’s a story full of naked ambition, stunning beauty, a shockingly Trump-like dad, and even some family secrets. Maybe she’s made for Washington after all.
It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, a man could marry his Slovenian sweetheart, invite Bill and Hillary Clinton to the lavish wedding, and only the society pages would bother with it. “It was completely different than it is now,” Melania Trump tells me, recalling those bygone days of sanity, speaking in her now famous accent, a kind of dreamy Transylvanian.
Back then, in 2005, it didn’t seem odd that she and Donald Trump would mark their happy occasion with the former president and First Lady, then a senator from New York. “When they went to our wedding, we were private citizens,” Melania reminds me. Just two private citizens getting hitched at the groom’s 126-room Florida palace. He in a tux; she in a $100,000 Dior dress that laborers’ hands had toiled upon for a legendary 550 hours, affixing 1,500 crystals—jewels fit for private citizens like them. A pair of ordinary people, really, uniting in matrimony in the presence of Rudy Giuliani and Kelly Ripa, as Billy Joel serenaded the couple and guests slurped caviar and Cristal in the shadow of a five-foot-tall Grand Marnier wedding cake.
Those were, in some ways, simpler times. But things change quickly—which is perhaps the enduring fact of Melania Trump’s entire improbable life—and when your husband works up a plan to make America great again, the very same Clintons you once smiled with on your wedding day can now become your family’s mortal enemies. And you can think, as Melania Trump says she does, that it’s no huge deal, really. “This is it, what it is,” Melania tells me. “It’s all business now; it’s nothing personal.”
Of course, Melania had the foresight to imagine that politics would bring chaos. Donald’s first wife, Ivana, may have wanted Trump to be president, but Melania, his third, was never hot on the idea. “When we discussed about it, I said he really needs to make sure he knows he really wants to do it, because life changes,” Melania says.
We’re speaking on the phone, though I have no idea where she’s calling from. Is she in her penthouse, a gilded triplex in the Trump Tower? Perhaps somewhere out on the campaign trail? While she’s a crowd-pleaser on the stump, she appears infrequently and only when she deigns to. “Nobody controls me. I travel with my husband when I can,” she says, “when I know that I can go, and I know that my son is okay alone for a few days with the help.”
While Donald often says that Melania would make a stellar First Lady, the former model offers little clue about what a move to the White House would mean for her. She once said she would be “traditional,” like Jackie Kennedy, and on the question of what causes she might support, she has noted she is already involved in “many, many charities.” She elaborated: “Many different charities involving children, involving many different diseases.”