As Donald Trump‘s younger daughter Tiffany took the stage at the Republican National Convention Tuesday night to deliver a speech about her father, there was one person backstage who had total faith in her ability: her mother, Marla Maples.
“To get up and speak your heart in front of the world’s stage is not easy, so I can’t explain how proud I felt watching my daughter who’s just 22 appear so poised and confident as she shared her light with everyone,” Maples, 52, tells PEOPLE on Wednesday.
In a wide-ranging, four-part interview with PEOPLE this spring as she competed on Dancing With the Stars, Maples also praised her daughter’s “grace” as she took on more and more of a public role stumping for her father.
“She is able to step in there and be her true self who loves her mother and her father and her family,” Maples told PEOPLE.
“Having raised her, I knew she would ultimately have a public life. But watching her sit there in that arena (during the Trump Town Hall this spring) with that much pressure on her and see how the love we have shared through the years has shaped her. She has become a woman. I could not have been more proud of her.”
Maples was married to Trump from 1993 to 1999, and moved to California following the split, meaning Tiffany had little time with her father. And Maples was virtually a single mother living on a comparably modest budget. But she says that only helped give her daughter an ability to stay centered.
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“She learned to keep the calm in the eye of the storm. She’s amazing,” Maples said. “She was with me through every bit of my journey throughout the last 22 years. I never hid anything from her.”
Having survived endless tabloid scrutiny herself – first amid the scandal following Trump’s divorce from Ivana, and later amid her own – Maples said Tiffany learned to deal with the press from her.
“She watched me have to go through so much in the media and how I handled it,” she said.
“It gave her the strength and courage to be able to walk into the world now with so many eyes on her,” Maples said. “She’s really strong. She has a bit of a thicker skin than me. She doesn’t let the haters get to her like I did.”