These days, Donald Trump and wife Melania's relationship has become a running joke, with the First Lady constantly refusing to hold her husband's hand and her trapped expression turning into a meme.

But there was a time when the couple seemed far happier, as a top Australian photographer has recalled from evenings spent with the couple.

"I was invited to parties of his where she would be literally sitting on his lap at their apartment on 5th Avenue, 60 floors up in the air or something," Anthony Horth told at the launch of his New York gallery.

"He really was, right from the start, totally cemented to her."


Melania Knauss was then working for Trump Model Management, the agency founded in 1999 by her businessman boyfriend. The couple met in 1998, when she was 28 and he was 52 and recently separated from second wife Marla Maples.

Horth regularly shot Melania for the covers of top US magazines.

On one occasion, Horth shot the Slovenian model and five other potential cover girls for the now defunct BBC-owned Options magazine β€” and she and Mr Trump were both desperate for her to be selected.

"I didn't have the heart to tell her she didn't have a cover," says Horth. "She was saying, 'Did I get the cover? Did I get cover?' I didn't want to be rude enough to say 'No, you didn't.'

"I just said it's not up to me, we had some great shots, which we did, and we'll know as time goes by. And he was genuinely as excited as her."

Donald Trump and then-model Melania Knauss in Miami in 1999, a year after they started dating. Photo / AP
Donald Trump and then-model Melania Knauss in Miami in 1999, a year after they started dating. Photo / AP

Mr Trump appeared extremely supportive of his girlfriend's career, according to the successful fashion photographer, now exhibiting spectacular landscapes of the Kimberley at his Soho gallery.

Horth, 73, said Mr Trump was "charming" and "very excitable", although he acknowledged the "incredible bluntness" and questionable morality of the President's behaviour today.

"He was genuinely, what I saw from him, genuinely a loving nature to his wife, or girlfriend as it was at the time," says Horth. "He was always charming around his employees and ... very personable. I didn't find him aggressive, I didn't find him rude."


The picture is very different to that of the couple's relationship now, 13 years after their 2005 wedding. Observers now regularly call for the First Lady to end the relationship as rumours of her husband's alleged infidelity abound.

Melania was reportedly devastated when Mr Trump won the presidency in 2016, waiting five months before moving to the White House from New York with their son Barron, 12.

Videos of Melania swatting away her husband's hand, avoiding his touch and looking icy at major events have swept social media, and Brigitte Macron, wife of the French President, recently revealed that the increasingly isolated Mrs Trump "can't do anything" and "can't go outside".

To add insult to injury, Mr Trump admitted last week that he was too busy to buy his wife anything more than flowers for her 48th birthday.

But Horth β€” who launched the career of supermodel Christy Turlington and shot famous faces including Jean Shrimpton, Marisa Berenson, Eva Herzigova and Diane Kruger for Vogue, Elle and Marie Claire β€” remembers a more likeable leader.

The talented photographer was impressed with how Mr Trump ran his model agency, which represented Jodie Kidd, Paris Hilton, Isabella Rossellini and Yasmin Le Bon over the years.


"I congratulated him. I said, 'You've got the most amazing model agency,' because they just, everybody's so relaxed, they get on with what they've got to do, nobody dictating, like [Elite Model Management founder] Johnny Casablancas used to always tell everybody what to do, the same with [Ford Models co-founder] Eileen Ford.

"Donald actually sort of poached those top people from the Ford and the Elite agency and put them under his thing, and just let them alone. He was totally hands off.

"I congratulated, shook his hand and said, 'Your place works because you let them do it.' He said, 'I know nothing about this business. I've got the top people here to do it. I let them do it. That's what I'm paying them for.'

"Now that to me sounds like a good thing, that's good delegation, isn't it?"

Mrs Trump and model Heidi Klum look like big fans of the real estate tycoon three years into the couple's marriage at a 2008 party in New York. Photo / AP
Mrs Trump and model Heidi Klum look like big fans of the real estate tycoon three years into the couple's marriage at a 2008 party in New York. Photo / AP

In August 2016, two former Trump models claimed the agency encouraged them to work without US visas, and a year later, it closed its doors.

Horth has also left behind his fashion past and now lives between Manhattan and an apartment in Sydney's Vaucluse, where he displayed his vast outback landscapes before bringing them to the US.


The 21 images in the Mother Earth Kimberley series retail at $19,800 per photo, paying homage to one of the most isolated regions on Earth and the Argyle Diamond Mine, where Horth was invited by Rio Tinto.

The sumptuous landscapes, which look like vivid paintings, represent the largest single collection of photographs to be exported from Australia, and Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Steve Ciobo visited the gallery on its opening.

Horth has had great success in the United Arab Emirates, with one of his photos hanging on the wall of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi's Species Conservation Fund headquarters.

he photographer will follow this exhibition with a series on the Amazon.

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