He is a self-professed Churchill obsessive who has risked mockery for claiming to base his presidential style on Britain’s legendary wartime leader.
He is a self-professed Churchill obsessive who has risked mockery for claiming to base his presidential style on Britain’s legendary wartime leader.
Now Donald Trump has gone one step further by forging an extraordinary – and until now secret – friendship with the head of the Churchill clan, the 12th Duke of Marlborough, who he affectionately calls ‘The Dook’.
So close are the two men, in fact, that The Mail on Sunday understands their families are about to enjoy a four-day private holiday together during next month’s half-term.
The Duke, his wife and two children will fly to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, dubbed the Winter White House, where they will join the President, his wife Melania and their son, 12-year-old Barron.
Donald Trump has forged an extraordinary – and until now secret – friendship with the head of the Churchill clan, the 12th Duke of Marlborough, who he affectionately calls ‘The Dook’ (right)
The state dining room at Blenheim Palace, on the edge of Woodstock, Oxfordshire, reveals a dining table fit for a king and a grand walkway
Trump bought the stunning Mar-a-Lago property in 1985 when it had fallen into disrepair and has spent an estimated £40 million transforming it
A portrait of the 1st Duke of Marlborough (left) can be found in Blenheim Palace while a portrait of Trump (right) can be found inside his Mar-a-Lago estate
And we can further reveal the President is already planning a trip to Britain later this year, where he will stay at Blenheim, the birthplace of his idol Churchill.
‘This friendship is the real deal,’ said a Washington insider. ‘They have bonded over their similar views, both political and otherwise, and have become fast friends.
‘They have a lot more in common than you would think. They talk regularly on the phone and their conversations often stretch well into the night.’
Now in their late middle age, both men are former playboys from vastly privileged backgrounds.
Their burgeoning friendship is bound to lead to comparisons between the lavish lifestyles they enjoy, their displays of wealth, a mutual infatuation with gold leaf – and, of course, two of the most famously ostentatious mansions in the world.
In Trump’s case, the ‘jewel’ in his £2.5 billion property empire is Mar-a-Lago, a sprawling 62,500sq ft Moorish-style resort, surrounded by swaying palm trees and pristine sandy beaches, which was built in 1924 for cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post.
Blenheim Palace is an English baroque masterpiece on the edge of Woodstock, Oxfordshire. It was built for military commander John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough and Winston Churchill’s direct ancestor
Inside Trump’s £2.5 billion property empire is Mar-a-Lago, a sprawling 62,500sq ft Moorish-style resort, surrounded by swaying palm trees and pristine sandy beaches in Florida
Mar-a-Lago, which has been dubbed by some as ‘a temple of bling’, has an elaborate grand living room with gold-leaf detail. The property also boasts 50 Austrian chandeliers
Blenheim Palace (paintings inside the property pictured) is considered one of Britain’s finest stately homes. It is so architecturally significant, it has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site
The Duke of Marlborough, meanwhile, can boast Blenheim Palace, the English baroque masterpiece on the edge of Woodstock, Oxfordshire.
Built for military commander John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough and Winston Churchill’s direct ancestor, it is considered one of Britain’s finest stately homes.
Indeed, it is so architecturally significant, it has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Both palaces are notable as statements of wealth and power. And if Mar-a-Lago has a mere 126 rooms compared with Blenheim’s 187, the lavish fixtures and fittings are just as jaw-dropping.
Blenheim Palace (Sunderland bedroom pictured), home of The Duke of Marlborough, was built on former royal hunting grounds by the first Duke of Marlborough to celebrate his 1704 victory in the Battle of Blenheim
Meanwhile Mar-a-Lago, which was built in 1924 for cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, was bought in 1985 when it had fallen into disrepair
Blenheim Palace (fireplace pictured above) was built as a monument to the ‘glory of Britain’. It was created between 1705 and 1722 at a cost equivalent to £180 million today
Meanwhile Trump has spent an estimated £40 million transforming Mar-a-Lago (one of its opulent bathrooms pictured above) into what some have called ‘a temple of bling’. He has also added £100,000 worth of gold plating to its 33 bathrooms and installed 50 Austrian-crystal chandeliers
Trump bought the sprawling property in 1985 when it had fallen into disrepair and has spent an estimated £40 million transforming it into what some have called ‘a temple of bling’.
He added £100,000 worth of gold plating to its 33 bathrooms, for example, and installed 50 Austrian-crystal chandeliers.
The pièce de résistance is, naturally, a life-sized portrait of a much younger Trump attired in flattering tennis whites, which hangs on the wood-panelled library wall. Beneath it sits a gold plaque which reads: ‘The Visionary’.
While Mar-a-Lago is one of Trump’s private homes – indeed First Lady Melania is spending this weekend there – part of it is also a resort and private members’ club. It costs £155,000 just to join, and members must also pay an annual fee of about £11,000.
Blenheim might have fewer bathrooms – a mere ten – but its 2,100 acres dwarf Mar-a-Lago’s 17-acre estate.
The palace – built on former royal hunting grounds by the first Duke of Marlborough to celebrate his 1704 victory in the Battle of Blenheim – was built as a monument to the ‘glory of Britain’.
A grateful Queen Anne – played by Olivia Colman in the current Oscar-tipped film The Favourite – contributed to its cost from public funds.
Created between 1705 and 1722 at a cost equivalent to £180 million today, it was designed by architects Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor, who intended it to portray the first Duke of Marlborough as an almost godlike figure (an ambition that some believe Trump might harbour).
Its gardens were designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and a 180ft library, by Sir Christopher Wren, houses 10,000 books and the biggest privately owned organ in Europe.
Anyone can visit the main house for an entrance fee of £27 – although the Duke’s private quarters remain strictly off-limits.
Trump first met the Duke, James Spencer-Churchill (known as Jamie to his friends) last summer when Theresa May hosted a lavish black-tie dinner with British business leaders at Blenheim.
It is understood the President had requested that the palace be included on his first working visit to Britain last summer because he wanted to see, not just the birthplace of Winston Churchill, but the bed in which he was born in 1874.
Legend actually has it that Churchill was born in a lavatory when his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, went into premature labour during a ball at Blenheim. In fact, she gave birth in a bedroom off the main state rooms.
After dinner, the 72-year-old President and ‘The Dook’, 63, hit it off when the Duke took Trump on a tour of Blenheim culminating in a visit to the relatively modest bedroom itself, complete with pink rose wallpaper.
‘It takes a lot to impress Trump but he was blown away by Blenheim’s grandeur and history,’ said a Washington source.
‘Trump and the Duke spent far more time together than they were supposed to because the President was so fascinated by the history of the house and its connection to Winston Churchill. It’s hard for anyone to “out-bling” the Donald, but the Duke did.
‘He’s got Old Masters hanging on the wall that have been in his family longer than America has been a republic.’
It must surely have amused Trump that, just as his fortune rescued Mar-a-Lago, Blenheim was ‘saved’ in 1895 by the 9th Duke of Marlborough’s arranged marriage to American railroad heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt, whose £2 million dowry (the equivalent of £60 million today) ensured Blenheim not only survived but thrived.
While the marriage was an unhappy one (Consuelo is said to have positioned a large silver centrepiece on the dining table to block her husband from view while they ate), her money paid for essential repairs at Blenheim.
And Trump’s admiration for Britain’s wartime prime minister is well-chronicled.
His favourite film is Darkest Hour, which chronicled Churchill’s extraordinary fortitude during the Second World War and won Gary Oldman last year’s Best Actor Oscar.
Indeed, Trump’s first act as President was to replace a bust of civil rights leader Martin Luther King – installed in the Oval Office by his predecessor Barack Obama – with a bust of Churchill.
When he visited the Prime Minister’s country home, Chequers, last year, Trump proudly posed in Churchill’s favourite leather armchair.
‘Trump has spoken openly about modelling his leadership on Churchill’s,’ said the source. ‘He admires his no-nonsense style and tough talking. Trump doesn’t read many books but he’s got every book on Churchill.
‘From the moment he and the Duke met, they hit it off instantly.’
A few years ago their friendship would have seemed even less likely.
The Duke, otherwise known as Jamie Blandford (his previous title was the Marquess of Blandford), was once a notorious partygoer who became embroiled in a world of drugs.
In 1995, he spent a month in prison for forging prescriptions and in 2007 was sentenced to six months in jail on two counts of dangerous driving following a ‘road rage’ incident.
His father, the 11th Duke, described him as ‘the black sheep’ of the family and even went to court to ensure his son would never have full control over Blenheim.
Today it is run by a board of trustees who have the power of final veto over any decision.
By comparison, Trump is a lifelong teetotaller who boasts he has never smoked a cigarette or tried drugs.
Both men share a well-chronicled love of women, however, and struggle to contain large egos.
An unexceptional student at Harrow School, the Duke once sniffed to a master: ‘You can’t tell me what to do. I’m going to be the Duke of Marlborough.’
He has had a string of glamorous girlfriends including the actress Catherine Oxenberg and Lulu Blacker, who was Sarah Ferguson’s bridesmaid when she married Prince Andrew.
Trump, meanwhile, has fathered five children with three wives. Since his presidency began, he has been mired in scandals involving a seemingly endless parade of Playboy models, strippers and porn stars who have accused him of cheating on his various wives, including Melania.
The Duke has a son and heir, George, the result of his first marriage to kindergarten teacher Becky Few Brown. That marriage ended in divorce in 1998 after eight years.
He has two children, Lady Araminta, 11, and ten-year-old Lord Casper by second wife Edla Griffiths, a Welsh ceramicist, whom he married in 2002. By all accounts, she has been a stabilising force who has helped her husband stay clear of drugs and focus on his duties.
Mar-a-Lago has plenty to offer the Duke’s family by way of entertainment, including a spa and two Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Blenheim’s charms, in contrast, are more formal and include a private lake, croquet court and a chapel built in 1730 which has a vault housing the remains of successive dukes and duchesses.
It also has the world’s second-largest maze consisting of 3,000 yew hedges, but no swimming pool.
Blenheim has Mar-a-Lago trounced when it comes to first impressions, too. Known as ‘the most beautiful view in England’, the dramatic design of the house and estate features a main facade measuring 150 yards across, flanked by two huge wings, kitchens and stable courts, linked to the main block by colonnades.
The central entrance is a massive portico. At each corner of the main building there is a tower topped with decorative sculptures carved by the Dutch-English master woodcarver Grinling Gibbons.
They are echoed by similar towers at the sides of the kitchen and stable blocks. The elaborate roofline is embellished by gilded and painted statues of men and beasts.
Mar-a-Lago’s main entrance is a modest 60ft-high pink painted archway embellished with 15th Century Moroccan tiles.
In terms of artwork, Blenheim again wins hands down.
The red drawing room features a portrait of the 4th Duke and Duchess painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1777. Opposite hangs a painting by John Singer Sargent of Charles Spencer-Churchill, the 9th Duke, and his family.
The room’s stunning ceiling is by Hawskmoor, with gilded family crests in the corners. The furniture is priceless Chippendale from the 18th Century.
Trump’s living room is as ostentatious, if not as historically significant. At 1,800sq ft with 21ft-high ceilings, the room has a copy of the ‘Thousand Wings Ceiling’ based on the Accademia Gallery in Venice, which features feathered gold-leaf wings and a gold sunburst. It is reported to have cost £250,000.
Trump’s long-time butler Anthony Senecal said: ‘It’s just the most fabulous room at Mar-a-Lago. Mr Trump will tell you that the ceiling is gold bullion, but it’s gold leaf.’
Both men also know how to dine in style. Blenheim’s state dining room – which features wall murals painted by 17th Century French decorative artist Louis Laguerre, marble fireplaces and marble doors with carved shells – was used for President Trump’s dinner during his visit last summer.
Trump’s formal dining room, meanwhile, can seat just 200 but features gold-plated chairs and a 9-carat gold gilded roof.
‘You can bet the food is better at Mar-a-Lago,’ said a source. ‘At Blenheim the kitchens are miles from the formal reception rooms. Mar-a-Lago is grand but it’s fundamentally a family home.
‘The President insists on everything being perfect, from the gold-rimmed plates to the temperature of the steaks.’
Mr Senecal told The Mail on Sunday that Mar-a-Lago represents ‘everything’ to the President. It was where he married Melania.
‘The main staircase is a work of art. I remember when Melania came down the stairs in her wedding gown. She looked absolutely beautiful,’ he said.
While Blenheim’s furnishings are the ‘real deal’, Mr Senecal confessed that his boss sold off much of Mar-a-Lago’s original Louis XIV furniture, replacing it with cheaper reproductions.
‘He raised about £1 million with the furniture he auctioned,’ he added. ‘In 1992 or 1993, Mr Trump got rid of a lot of the antiques that he felt wouldn’t stand up to heavy usage by guests in the public part of the property.
‘He turned the library into a bar. It was full of first editions and signed copies. I asked him what he wanted me to do with the books and he said: “Just get rid of them.” I took a bunch home.’
Trump is looking forward to showing his home off to the Duke. ‘Blenheim is a stately home but Mar-a-Lago is a family home,’ a source said.
‘Mr Trump has invested a lot of time and effort into his home and it’s his pride and joy.
‘It’s very comfortable. The private bathrooms have heated floor tiles. I bet Blenheim doesn’t have that.’