Few who have been to the White House come away unimpressed with its imposing splendour and sumptuous glamour - a fitting home for a man who is master of all he surveys.

But for Melania Trump, one just hopes it won't be a terrible comedown.

As Americans try to come to terms with the astonishing prospect that Republican frontrunner Donald Trump really could become the next US president, curiosity about the woman who might be America's First Lady is growing.

The glittering bauble that tops the outspoken billionaire's property tree is a vast triplex apartment at the top of the 68-floor Trump Tower in Manhattan with fabulous views across Central Park.


Designed to evoke the Palace of Versailles (though even Louis XVI was never this garish), it boasts a cavernous hall of mirrors, acres of marble set off by '24-carat gold and diamond accents', and ceilings hand-painted with cherubs and scenes from Greek myths.

Trump also owns Seven Springs, a huge mansion outside New York in the upmarket hamlet of Bedford, which boasts 60 rooms, two servants' wings, 15 bedrooms, three swimming pools and 230 acres of land.

There's another mansion in rural Virginia, a huge house on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and a vast waterside pile at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida.

Mrs Trump is certainly not embarrassed by the ostentatiousness, regularly posting pictures of her extravagant existence on social media.

At 45, 24 years younger than Trump, she has for years had to put up with people sniggering that all she sees in him is a great big dollar sign. Asked this week what it was that first attracted her to him, Mrs Trump avoided the obvious trap.

'His mind, his amazing mind,' she said in her still thick Eastern European accent, narrowing her kohl-covered blue eyes for extra emphasis.

That mind may yet propel the Trumps to the White House, a remarkable achievement not just for him, but for a young woman who came to the U.S. 19 years ago from the communist privations of the former Yugoslavia.

Trump used to be a notorious womaniser and genuinely seems to believe he holds a fatal attraction for the opposite sex.

He has even claimed, with his trademark unchivalrous bluntness, he could have slept with Princess Diana if he had wanted. (The TV presenter Selina Scott said Trump bombarded the Princess with flowers after the break-up of her marriage to the point Diana began to feel he was stalking her).

Instead, it is an ambitious immigrant who became the third Mrs Trump - and may yet become the first foreign-born First Lady since Louisa Adams, the British-born wife of 1820s president John Quincy Adams.

First Ladies tend to fall into two categories: those content to look fragrant and fade gently into the background, and those - such as Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt - who make their presence felt not only in the White House but also in government.

Mrs Trump's virtual absence from the Trump nomination campaign, barely opening her mouth when she does appear, has left many convinced she would fall into the former First Lady category.

This week, she finally spoke out, perhaps keen to dispel widespread assumptions that Trump married her for her looks rather than her brains. 'I'm not a "yes" person,' she told Us Weekly magazine in one of a clutch of interviews. 'I give him my opinions.' Sometimes, he follows them, sometimes he doesn't, she says. 'Do I agree with him all the time? No, I don't, and I tell him that.'

While he's on the campaign trail, they talk on the phone several times a day and Melania will opine on political developments. Happily for marital harmony, she seems to agree with Trump on his most provocative views. She defended his controversial call to ban Muslims from entering the United States, saying: 'He wants to protect people of America. What's going on in the world, it's very dangerous.'

As a fellow immigrant, she was asked, wasn't she offended by Trump's vitriolic attacks on Mexican 'illegals' (he suggested most were rapists and drug-dealers)?
No, she countered, she never dreamed of staying in America illegally. She says she renewed her work visa every few months until she could get permanent residency through a Green Card and eventually American citizenship. Mrs Trump insists she is not a nagging wife, which is just as well given Trump's many perceived failings.

Asked to reveal her secret to a happy marriage, she said simply: 'Separate bathrooms.'

There will be plenty of those to spare in the White House and the increasingly confident-sounding Trump - who has commandingly won three of the first four state primaries - already talks of how his wife would be an 'amazing representative for our country'.

Mrs Trump has shrugged off any First Lady talk, insisting her main priority is to be a mother to their 9-year-old son, Barron. She doesn't even have a nanny, she says, though she does have her own chef. US pundits love to talk about the death of the American Dream as the economic expectations of ordinary people stagnate. But Mrs Trump has certainly managed it, coming a long way from modest roots in communist-era Yugoslavia.

The daughter of a car dealer, she grew up in Sevnica, a quiet industrial town, where the family was wealthy enough to go skiing in Austria. Childhood friends remember Melanija Knavs, as she was then called, as a tall, skinny, well-mannered and shy girl who was a conscientious student.

She was 17 when a photographer spotted the 5ft 11in beauty and persuaded her to try modelling. By 18, she had signed with a Milan modelling agency and was jetting between Paris and Italy on assignments, posing for photographers such as Helmut Newton and Mario Testino, while taking a design and architecture degree in what was now Slovenia.  Melania, who says she speaks five languages, changed her name to the more Germanic 'Knauss' and moved to New York in 1996.

She met Trump two years later at a fashion industry party. She was 28, he was 52 and recently separated from his second wife, bit-part actress Marla Maples.

Trump's first wife, Ivana, is Czech-born: East European women clearly appeal to him.
Despite being on a date with another woman, he asked Melania for her phone number. She played a little hard to get, demanding his number instead and waiting three days before ringing him. They were soon an item.

Posing regally in what could be called the 'Trump-L'Oeil' Versailles of their Manhattan palace, she looks and sounds the picture of respectability.

It wasn't always so restrained. In 1999, after Trump suggested he might run for the presidency, he and Melania gave a notorious phone interview to 'shock jock' radio DJ Howard Stern during which Trump boasted about their sex life. 'I'll tell you this, for a presidential candidate, I have the best time,' he said. The following year, Melania posed naked on a bearskin rug inside Trump's private jet for GQ magazine.

The Trumps married in Palm Beach in 2005, a US$1 million (NZD$1.5m) affair in which Melania wore a US$100,000 Dior dress and guests ate a 50lb Grand Marnier wedding cake.

Their son Barron was born a year later and she inherited four grown-up stepchildren.

She has launched a jewellery collection and skincare range that included a US$150 (NZD$226) -an ounce , caviar-infused moisturiser she said she slathers on her son.

'Melania is someone who can talk you down from a ledge, whatever crisis you may be in,' says Rachel Roy, a fashion designer chum.

Friends say Mrs Trump is quiet and gracious, and has a calming influence on her excitable husband. For that, if nothing else, we may all one day be truly thankful.

- Daily Mail