There was just one thing that would have made the brash and chaotic circus of the Trump presidency complete — his irrepressible first wife, Ivana. Unlike shy and glacial Melania, whose heart never seemed to be in it, the Czech-born former skiing instructor and fur coat model would have been the perfect, larger-than-life First Lady for the bombastic president.
Her outrageous hairdos were as bouffant as his, her wit as caustic and her personality just as egocentric and competitive. The formidable Ivana was also a detail-obsessed workaholic who played a key role in the Trump business empire.
She became an unlikely hit with British viewers in the 2010 series of Celebrity Big Brother and would surely have relished every second in the White House — although heaven only knows what the queen of kitsch would have done with the decor.
Instead, Ivana had to observe some sense of decorum and watch from the sidelines — and largely succeeded.
Ivana Trump, former US president Donald Trump’s first wife, on the slopes of St-Moritz in 1997. She tragically died this week of a heart attack, leaving behind her and Donald’s three children
Ivana, who died on Thursday, aged 73, after falling downstairs at her Manhattan home, always seemed made of rather tougher stuff than the other women in The Donald’s life
Ivana took credit for supervising the construction and design of Trump Tower and the Grand Hyatt hotel in New York, and the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City
Although she diplomatically stayed silent about ‘The Donald’ (as she memorably dubbed him) during his election campaign, a woman who’d traded off her husband’s name for years could hardly keep quiet when she had a memoir to plug in 2017.
‘I have the direct number to White House,’ she boasted on U.S. breakfast TV with her distinctive Eastern European diction, adding that — 25 years after they divorced — she still talked to The Donald every two weeks.
‘But I don’t really want to call him because Melania is there and I don’t really want to cause any kind of jealousy or something like that because I’m basically first Trump wife. I’m First Lady, OK?’
Of course, it was designed to get a rise and it worked. Within hours, Melania had broken her usual silence and issued a statement defending herself, adding icily: ‘There is clearly no substance to this statement from an ex. Unfortunately only attention-seeking and self-serving noise.’
A rebuke like that was hardly going to quell a force of nature like Ivana, a woman who, on discovering while they were skiing in Aspen that Mr Trump was cheating on her with future wife Marla Maples, had it out with Maples and then spotted her husband hastily putting on his skis to flee her wrath. She pursued the wobbly novice down the mountain, wagging her finger in his face as she skied backwards beside him and he tried to avoid falling over.
Ivana, who died on Thursday, aged 73, after falling downstairs at her Manhattan home, always seemed made of rather tougher stuff than the other women in The Donald’s life. Indeed, he reportedly resolved that after Ivana — who became head of interior design for the Trump Organisation and managed a clutch of its biggest developments — he’d never again marry a woman who competed with him in the boardroom and in the social pages.
During their 15-year marriage, which lasted from 1977 to 1992, they set new standards for glitzy excess as they came to epitomise the 1980s New York power couple — an image which Mr Trump exploited as he built the TV career that eventually took him to the White House.
Ivana shared his limitless ambition, boasting that ‘in 50 years, we will be the Rockefellers’.
Although she had a reputation for being less brash and more charming than him (which can’t have been hard), her candid revelations, even to casual acquaintances, about her sex life proved too much for those in New York society who would have preferred a little less information.
She even asked me for a receipt for stamps!
By Liz Brewer
In 1992, I picked up the phone only to hear Ivana Trump.
‘Lizzie,’ she purred, in her wonderful throaty accent. ‘I understand I need to meet you. Can you have lunch?’
That invitation was the start of a long working relationship that became a warm friendship, during which I saw Ivana both in work mode and at play.
She brought the same energy — and exacting standards — to both, and I grew used to being greeted at my office by yards of faxes (Ivana was a late adopter of email) of her instructions.
When we first met, she was ending her 15-year marriage to Donald and needed PR advice. Post-divorce, she was anxious to be taken seriously as a businesswoman rather than just a famous ex-wife and wanted to forge a life in London.
Raised amid the deprivations of communist Czechoslovakia, Ivana had emerged with an inner steel and a craving for the finer things in life: private jets, superyachts and lavish parties at her home in Palm Beach. A glass of champagne in one hand — and usually with a new man in tow — she was in her element.
But behind that coiffured beehive Ivana didn’t suffer fools, scrutinising my invoices down to the last penny — she once asked me for a receipt for a set of stamps — while if you upset her you knew about it, as Richard Branson once discovered. At the Business Traveller Of The Year awards ceremony, Richard made the mistake of whipping Ivana up off the floor and turning her upside down — one of his party pieces.
I knew she’d be worrying about her beehive, and the fact it emerged intact didn’t lessen her fury.
She vowed never to fly with Virgin Airlines, or speak to him, ever again. But they made up at her engagement party. The next time I saw them, they were laughing uproariously. That was Ivana all over: fervent, but with a wicked sense of humour.
She remained close to her ex-husband, who called her regularly even as President, and while she had less need of my services over the last three years, we remained friends.
I spoke to her just last week, when she was in good spirits and looking forward to flying to her adored townhouse in St Tropez, where I planned to visit her.
Alas, it was not to be. I shall miss her terribly.
Like Melania, a child of Soviet-era Eastern Europe, she was born Ivana Zelnickova in a small town south of Prague in 1949. Her parents, an engineer and a telephone operator, encouraged her to become a competitive athlete. She was so good at skiing that she got into the Czech junior national team (although Mr Trump claimed she got into the Olympic squad) and was briefly married to an Austrian ski instructor.
That ‘Cold War marriage’, as she called it, got her the Austrian passport that allowed her to move to Canada, where she worked as a model and ski instructor.
She moved to New York in her early 20s and met the then 29-year-old Mr Trump when he helped get a table for herself and a friend in a restaurant he was managing for the family business. ‘He offered us a table,’ she recalled. ‘I told my girlfriend I had good news and bad news — the good news was we could get a table fast, the bad news was that Donald was going to sit with us.’ They married less than a year later.
As she later observed: ‘I came to America and I saw the houses, the cars, the bananas and the strawberries in winter, and I knew what I wanted. With Donald, I found them, yes? I may be blonde, but I was not stupid.’
She gave Mr Trump three children — Donald Jr, Ivanka and Eric — later claiming that when she gave birth to their first child, she said she wanted to name him Donald Jr. ‘But what if he’s a loser?’ said Mr Trump, apparently genuinely worried.
She also wanted to be part of his business life and, at least in private, became an equal partner. The gaudy opulence for which Mr Trump became notorious was her inspiration. Ivana took credit for supervising the construction and design of Trump Tower and the Grand Hyatt hotel in New York, and the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City.
She was paid a salary of nearly £1 million a year, plus all the couture frocks she could wear. She drenched the couple’s huge, triplex penthouse in Trump Tower in gold, brass and pink marble, and the couple flew around in their own Boeing 727. By the end of the 1980s, they were estimated to be worth $3billion.
However, according to Mr Trump’s niece Mary, the couple were so lazy and mean they would recycle presents for family members. Linda, Mary’s mother, once received a handbag from Ivana that contained a used Kleenex tissue, while Mary said she was once given a gift bag of food that had already been partially eaten.
Although Ivana insisted she and Mr Trump were kindred spirits —their daughter Ivanka described their shared approach to life as ‘all out, all the time’ — Ivana claimed she represented too much of a challenge to him.
‘Behind every successful woman, there is a man in shock,’ she wrote years later. ‘I was too successful to be Mrs Trump. In our marriage, there couldn’t be two stars. So one of us had to go.’
She insisted she had already heard rumours of her husband’s infidelity when, in the winter of 1989, a blonde woman approached her as she queued for lunch with her children in the super-smart ski resort of Aspen, Colorado, and introduced herself by saying: ‘I’m Marla and I love your husband. Do you?’
Ivana said she shot back: ‘Get lost. I love my husband.’
L-R: Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump, and Ivana Trump. Ivanka Trump has said her mother and father’s lifestyle was ‘all out, all the time’
Ivana insisted she and Mr Trump were kindred spirits, and said she would speak to him every two weeks even after he entered the White House
Ivanka Trump shared this charming photo of herself and her mother skiing, in tribute to Ivana Trump, on social media
Witnesses said Ivana was rather more pointed than that, following Maples, a former beauty queen 15 years her junior, outside and telling her: ‘You bitch. Leave my husband alone.’
It was then that she spotted Trump trying to make a hasty getaway and memorably — for those watching — chased him down the slopes.
The messy and acrimonious, two-year divorce battle that followed cemented Ivana’s celebrity but also saw her claim in a sworn deposition that he’d once raped her after becoming enraged over painful scalp-reduction surgery he’d had in an attempt to deal with his hair loss.
Mr Trump denied the rape allegation and, after receiving a hefty financial settlement, Ivana later retracted her claims and clarified that it was not rape in ‘a literal or criminal sense’.
According to Ivana, Mr Trump once sent a bodyguard to collect young Donald Jr, then rang Ivana to say she wouldn’t see her son again as he would bring him up instead. It was a tactic, she observed, ‘simply to upset me’.
The warring parties also slugged it out in the Press. Miss Maples famously claimed Mr Trump had provided ‘the best sex I’ve ever had’. Ivana returned fire by telling newspapers her children would cry themselves to sleep, terrified they would never see her again.
She came away from the divorce with $14million, a mansion in Connecticut, an apartment at Trump Plaza on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and the right to stay for a month a year at Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. Ivana also won sole custody of the children.
Not that either of them bore a grudge for long: within three years, they’d appeared together in a Pizza Hut commercial in which they even joked about their divorce battle. ‘Can I have the last slice?’ she asked. ‘Actually, you’re only entitled to half,’ he countered.
She showed she’d become the patron saint of divorcees in the 1996 film The First Wives Club, in which she had a cameo role, reassuring a group of divorced women: ‘Don’t get mad, get everything!’
Not one to simply sit back and enjoy her fortune, Ivana pioneered the sort of celebrity product lines that are now ubiquitous. She developed her own brands of clothing, jewellery and beauty products, which she’d plug herself on the TV shopping channels.
She became a motivational speaker and newspaper agony aunt, wrote four books and launched a magazine, Ivana’s Living In Style.
That ‘style’ remained very much her own. Joan Collins visited Ivana’s post-divorce New York home and commented: ‘I’ve rarely seen anything so badly decorated in faux everything in my life. Velvet on the walls! And cornices painted glittering gold!’
Ivana reportedly spent an annual £200,000 on her wardrobe and also kept four homes in the U.S. and Europe, and a yacht in the Mediterranean.
Ivana married Italian businessman Riccardo Mazzucchelli in 1995. But, despite reports he showered her with jewels, they separated 20 months later. She sued him for violating the confidentiality clause in their pre-nuptial agreement — while he sued her and Mr Trump for suggesting he was a gold-digger. The latter suit was settled in a British libel court for undisclosed terms.
After a six-year relationship with Italian aristocrat Count Roffredo Gaetani, a playboy Ferrari dealer, she married for a fourth time in 2008 — solidifying her ‘cougar’ reputation as Italian actor and model Rossano Rubicondi was 36 and she was 59. Mr Trump let them use Mar-a-Lago for the wedding, but within five months Ivana had asked for a separation after discovering he had a girlfriend.
Ivana and Rubicondi danced together in Italy’s Dancing With The Stars and although they divorced within a year, their on-off relationship continued until 2019.
In later life, Ivana divided her time between homes in New York, Miami and St Tropez, saying she turned down Mr Trump’s offer of the U.S. ambassadorship to the Czech Republic because she couldn’t face four years in Prague.
However, the once gregarious socialite shut herself away during the pandemic in terror of getting infected. A close friend said she had also been ‘devastated’ by the death of Rubicondi last October.
Her daughter Ivanka described her as ‘brilliant, charming, passionate and wickedly funny’, adding: ‘She lived life to the fullest — never forgoing an opportunity to laugh and dance.’
The Trump ‘brand’ certainly now glows with a little less of its brassy lustre.