Is Kim Jong-un's mystery woman a long-lost love?

Glamorous companion said to be a married pop star who Korean leader's father forbade him to see

The most mysterious leader on the planet just got a little more so. After a fortnight’s unexplained absence from the public gaze, North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un has returned squiring a glamorous young woman.

Hair trimmed in a neat bob, large eyes, a warm, self-confident smile, got up in a natty dark suit with green piping, she took the stage next to Mr Kim at the end of a musical show, applauding the cast. The 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. But though happy to splash the photos around, official sources gave no clue as to her identity.

South Korean intelligence sources claim that she is Hyon Song-wol, a locally famous pop singer who, fronting the Bochonbo Electronic Music Band, had a string of local hits in the early 2000s. The most popular was entitled "Excellent Horse-like Lady", and eulogised the Stakhanovite achievements of a beautiful woman worker in a textile factory. In the video of the song, Ms Hyon played the heroine, dashing around a sparkling factory with a beatific smile, distributing bobbins and collecting swatches of cloth at top speed.

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 that 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 two have known each other since they were in their teens," the intelligence source told the Seoul daily Joong An, "and rumours about the two having an affair have been circulating among Pyongyang's top elite".

The mystery woman, who earlier had accompanied Mr Kim on a visit to the tomb of his grandfather Kim Il-sung, founder of the dynasty, undoubtedly bears a strong resemblance to the pop singer. But official North Korean sources have so far declined to shed light on her identity, leading to a rash of rival explanations.

Earlier reports claimed that she was Kim's younger sister Kim Yeo-jong, and was being put through her public paces in preparation for being given a significant political role. But according to Paik Haksoon of the Sejong Institute, a Seoul think-tank, this is rot: "She doesn't have the attitude of a younger sister, who in Korean culture would have to stay in the shadow of her elder brother," he said.

The expert supports the thesis that the woman is Kim's wife, "otherwise the regime would not give her such public proximity to the supreme leader". But he doubted whether she was Hyon Song-wol: he questioned whether Kim would be permitted to flaunt his secret romantic attachments while still consolidating his grip on the nation.

And if this really is Hyon Song-wol, whatever happened to her husband and son?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Jeremy Clarkson
people
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own