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Donald Trump's life story: From hotel developer to president

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  • US election 2020
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Long before he was a contender for the US presidency, Donald Trump was America's most famous and colourful billionaire.

Once considered a long shot, the 74-year-old is now president of the United States, approaching the end of a four-year term.

Scepticism over his candidacy for the 2016 election had stemmed not only from his controversial platform on immigration and outrageous campaign style but from his celebrity past.

Yet the businessman had the last laugh when he defied all predictions to beat much more seasoned politicians in the Republican primary race.

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He then went a step further by winning the presidential election, one of the most divisive and controversial contests in living memory, against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Early life

Mr Trump is the fourth child of New York real estate tycoon Fred Trump. Despite the family's wealth, he was expected to work the lowest-tier jobs within his father's company and was sent off to a military academy at age 13 when he started misbehaving in school.

After attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania he became favourite to succeed his father when his older brother, Fred, chose to become a pilot. Fred Trump died at 43 from alcoholism, an incident that his brother says led him to avoid alcohol and cigarettes his entire life.

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Mr Trump says he got into real estate with a "small" $1m loan from his father before joining the company. He helped manage his father's extensive portfolio of residential housing projects in the New York City boroughs, and took control of the company - which he renamed the Trump Organization - in 1971.

His father died in 1999. "My father was my inspiration," Mr Trump said at the time.

The mogul

Shifting his family's business from residential units in Brooklyn and Queens to glitzy Manhattan projects, Mr Trump transformed the rundown Commodore Hotel into the Grand Hyatt and erected the most famous Trump property, the 68-storey Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. Other properties bearing the famous name followed - Trump Place, Trump World Tower, Trump International Hotel and Tower, and so on. There are Trump Towers in Mumbai, Istanbul and the Philippines.

And Mr Trump developed hotels and casinos, an arm of the business that has led to four bankruptcy filings (for the businesses, not personal bankruptcy).

He also built an empire in the entertainment business. From 1996 until 2015, he was an owner in the Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA beauty pageants. In 2003, he debuted an NBC reality television show called The Apprentice, in which contestants competed for a shot at a management job within Mr Trump's organisation. He hosted the show for 14 seasons, and said in a financial disclosure form that he had been paid a total of $213m by the network during the show's run.

He has written several books, and owns a line of merchandise that sells everything from neckties to bottled water. According to Forbes, his net worth is $2.5bn (£1.9bn).

In September, the New York Times reported that despite his purported wealth, Mr Trump paid just $750 in federal income tax both in 2016 and in his first year in the White House. The president dismissed the report as "fake news".

The husband and father

Mr Trump has been married three times, though his most famous wife was his first - Ivana Zelnickova, a Czech athlete and model. The couple had three children - Donald Jr, Ivanka and Eric - before they filed for divorce in 1990. The ensuing court battle made for numerous stories in the tabloid press. Those stories included allegations that he was abusive towards Ivana, though she later downplayed the incidents.

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image captionIvana and Donald Trump in 1989

He married actress Marla Maples in 1993. They had a daughter named Tiffany before divorcing in 1999. He married his current wife, Slovenian model Melania Knauss, in 2005, and the couple have one son, Barron William Trump.

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image captionTrump with his wife Melania and children at his campaign announcement

His children from his first marriage now help run Trump Organization, though he is still chief executive. Ivanka, his eldest daughter, followed her dad to the White House, where she and her husband, Jared Kushner, serve as senior advisers.

The candidate

Mr Trump expressed interest in running for president as early as 1987, and even entered the 2000 race as a Reform Party candidate.

After 2008, he became one of the most outspoken members of the "birther" movement, which questioned whether Barack Obama had been born in the US. Those claims have been thoroughly debunked; Mr Obama was born in Hawaii. Mr Trump finally admitted there was no truth to the claims although, characteristically, there was no apology.

It was not until June 2015 that Mr Trump formally announced his entrance into the race for the White House.

"We need somebody that literally will take this country and make it great again. We can do that," he said in his announcement speech, promising that as a candidate with no need to fundraise he answered to no special interests and was the perfect outsider candidate.

Under the banner Make America Great Again, Mr Trump ran a controversial campaign built on promises to strengthen the American economy, build a wall on the border of Mexico and the US, and to temporarily ban immigration by Muslims "until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on".

Despite massive protests at his campaign events and the best efforts of his Republican rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Mr Trump became the presumptive Republican Party nominee for president after the Indiana primary.

The election winner

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image captionFew expected to ever see Trump in the Oval Office

Mr Trump's 2016 campaign for the presidency was rocked by controversies, including the emergence of a recording from 2005 of him making lewd remarks about women, and claims, including from members of his own party, that he was not fit for office.

But he consistently told his army of supporters that he would defy the opinion polls, which mostly had him trailing Hillary Clinton, and that his presidency would strike a blow against the political establishment and "drain the swamp" in Washington.

He took inspiration from the successful campaign to get Britain out of the European Union, saying he would pull off "Brexit times 10".

It was something few pundits believed would happen as polling day approached, despite his campaign receiving a late boost from fresh controversy over an FBI investigation into his opponent's emails.

As his stunning victory was still sinking in across the US, his supporters got the chance to see him in the Oval Office when he and President Obama met for transition talks two days after election day.

He is the first US president never to have held elected office or served in the military, meaning that he had already made history before he was sworn in as America's 45th president on 20 January 2017.

The president

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image captionMr Trump's presidency has been marked by the coronavirus pandemic - and his own infection

Much like his candidacy, Donald Trump's presidency has been marked by drama and controversy.

In January 2017, he signed his first executive order, banning travel from seven countries, most with Muslim-majorities. The ban, decried as xenophobic by critics, has been upheld by the Supreme Court.

Months later, he shocked Washington by firing FBI Director James Comey. The sudden dismissal was described as potentially obstructing justice in a subsequent report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which probed alleged collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia. The two-year long investigation did not establish criminal collusion.

Soon after, Mr Trump faced accusations that he had pressured a foreign government to dig up dirt on Democratic rival Joe Biden. The allegations prompted a Democratic-led impeachment inquiry, and Mr Trump became just the third US president in history to be impeached.

But Mr Trump has maintained his loyal base thanks to a number of campaign promises kept. Perhaps his most enduring legacy: nominating three right-wing justices to the Supreme Court, which will shape the country's policies for decades to come.

His 2020 election year has been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic. He has faced intense criticism for his handling of the crisis, as the US leads the globe in deaths and infections. The voracious campaigner was even forced to take a break from the trail in October, after he was diagnosed with Covid-19 himself.

media captionUS President Donald Trump on Covid-19 in his own words

Now American voters are deciding whether to give him a second term or put Mr Biden in the White House in his place.

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