Unlike her husband, Melania Trump doesn’t do much off the cuff. In so many ways the glamorous former model is the opposite of Donald Trump, especially in the fact that she shies from speaking in public.
“I am a perfectionist,” she said in a rare, lengthy telephone interview in April. In her accented English, the Slovenian-born woman who is raising the couple’s 10-year-old son said she was deliberately limiting her exposure on the campaign trail.
“I know what I want, and I don’t need to talk and to, you know, be an attention-seeker.”
But after delivering the biggest speech of her life at the Republican National Convention on Monday night, Melania Trump is now at the center of unwelcome attention, having to explain how a woman who prides herself on paying attention to every detail used strikingly similar words to Michelle Obama’s address to the 2008 Democratic convention.
On Thursday, Trump is expected to fly back to Cleveland from her home in Trump Tower in Manhattan for her husband’s acceptance speech, this time with an even bigger focus on the reluctant campaigner.
Trump is not a traditional spouse of a presidential candidate — and not only because English is not her first language, or because she would be the first first lady born outside the United States since Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, in the 1820s.
Trump, 46, is 24 years younger than her husband. She is his third wife. And she has famously posed as a model wearing next to nothing.
Appearing in magazines and ads, Trump worked hard to control every detail of photo shoots that sometimes lasted for hours, according to photographers who worked with the 5-foot-11 brunette with icy blue eyes. After meeting Donald Trump, she created her own Melania brand, selling jewelry and caviar-infused moisturizer.
But since her husband decided he wanted the family to move to the White House, she has found it far harder to control how she appears. Trump has lashed out at reporters digging into her past in the former Yugoslavia, where she grew up in a concrete-block apartment building in a small hillside town.
In recent days, for instance, new scrutiny of her life has led to news reports questioning the claim on her official business biography that she graduated from college in Slovenia. According to college friends, she dropped out to devote herself full-time to modeling.
Melania Knavs, who changed her name to Melania Knauss when she began her career, speaks English, Italian, French and some German, along with her native Slovenian. In the interview, she described herself as exceptionally private, devoted to her family, someone who likes to play sports and watch movies and who bristles when people who barely know her talk about her.
“Not a lot of people know me, and they don’t know my story. Only I know my story, and I see people who want to have maybe five, 15 minutes of fame, and they say, ‘Oh, I met her for five minutes . . . I know her.’ And describing me, and they don’t really know me.”
Melania was eager to leave her small town and socialist world and see the finer things the West had to offer. She found success modeling in Paris, Milan and New York. Donald Trump spotted her at a Manhattan party in 1998, and soon she moved from a modest apartment into a new life of extravagance. Their penthouse of marble and gold overlooks Central Park, and she often takes the family jet to the Trumps’ 128-room, oceanfront Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla.
“I was not starstruck, and I was with a celebrity myself so it’s not something new for me, and we are just all human and we do what we love to do, and it was just a fun time,” she said when asked what it was like to meet Michael Jackson, Celine Dion and the many celebrities she encountered while dating Donald Trump.
When Melania Trump speaks, she often pauses and considers her words. Asked recently what she would focus on as first lady, she would say only that she would put “100 percent” of herself into the job, studiously avoiding making news and leaving the headlines to her husband.
“I will go in the details if the time comes. . . . I see what the world needs, and it needs a lot of kindness and compassion.”
Although quite different in temperament and style, Melania and Donald Trump do share some traits — including the fact that neither drinks alcohol nor smokes.
“We are both very independent,” Melania Trump added — although she also noted that she and her husband have great “chemistry.” “We like to do what we like to do, and we give ourselves and each other space. I allowed him to do, to have his passion and his dreams come true, and he let me do the same.”
She said she did not believe in changing Donald Trump. And she said she was no pushover, either.
“I am very opinionated. I’m very strong. I have yes or no. I’m not a maybe person. I don’t say maybe. I know what I like.”
Politics doesn’t seem high on the list of what she likes. She told Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today” show that she wrote Monday night’s speech “with as little help as possible.”
Media commentators wondered if the fact that English is not her first language was a factor in her echoing Michelle Obama’s remarks. As of late Tuesday, Melania Trump had not said another public word since walking off the stage.