Hair trimmed in a neat bob, large eyes, a self-confident smile: a glamorous young woman has taken centre stage in recent days alongside North Korea's young supreme leader Kim Jong-un. The typically careful presentation of the pair – and nothing presentational is left to chance in North Korea – suggested strongly that they were husband and wife; that here was North Korea's First Lady, or at least she is well on her way to being so.
But though happy to splash the photos around, official sources gave no clue as to her identity.
South Korean intelligence sources, however, claim that she is Hyon Song-wol, a local pop singer who, fronting the Bochonbo Electronic Music Band, had a string of hits in the early 2000s. The most popular was entitled 'Excellent Horse-like Lady', and eulogised the achievements of a beautiful worker in a textile factory.
In the video for the song, Ms Hyon plays the song's heroine, dashing around a sparkling factory with a beatific smile. It is claimed that Kim Jong-un and Hyon Song-wol were lovers in adolescence but that Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, who died at the end of last year, disapproved of the relationship and forced his son to break if off.
Ms Hyon reportedly married an army officer and had a child with him. But now that the elder Kim is dead, it is suggested the younger man has gone back to his old flame and is positioning her to play an active role at his side, helping him to consolidate his image as a virile young man with the same sort of urges as his subjects.
The fact that Ms Hyon was nationally famous may help to give focus to a public image, which has so far wavered between chubby adolescence and unconvincing bellicosity.
"They have known each other since they were in their teens," the intelligence source said. "Rumours about them having an affair have been circulating among Pyongyang's elite."
Official North Korean sources have so far declined to shed a light on the woman's identity, leading to a rash of rival explanations. Earlier reports claimed she was Kim's younger sister Kim Yeo-jong.