Joan Smith: The rose of Pyongyang? I don't think so

In North Korea, we don't know if the first lady had any choice in the matter

Share

As far as I know, no one has ever made a movie called "I married a dictator", but perhaps they should. It's only a month since Ri Sol-ju was confirmed as North Korea's first lady but she's already accompanying Kim Jong-Un at public events, including a "field guidance trip" to an army unit. It's not my idea of a date but Ri put on her own little show, sporting a Dior clutch bag which carries a price tag – according to people who know about these things – of around a thousand pounds.

According to other people, who take more interest in politics than handbags, it's all part of Kim's attempt to humanise a regime with one of the worst reps in the world. If that's the case, he might want to consider ditching the Mao suit and spending a bit of time in the gym; plump just isn't a good look in a country so badly run that millions are at risk of starvation. Indeed, a 65 per cent leap in food prices in Pyongyang between June and July this year suggests that the marriage announcement may have been a calculated distraction.

North Korea is often described as one of the last Stalinist states, and TV footage of the happy couple applauding robotic soldiers in uniform hasn't done anything to dispel that impression. Ri looks more nervous than delighted in film clips released by the regime, including one of what looks like an excruciating visit last month to a new amusement park. This was the occasion when a newsreader referred to Ri for the first time as Kim's wife, but beyond that very little is known about her.

She is believed to be a singer who caught his eye during one of her performances, but even that detail isn't certain. In the West, we're used to assuming that leaders' wives know exactly what message they're sending, but North Korea is another matter. I know a diplomat who was once taken, with great ceremony, to visit a state-of-the-art goat farm outside Pyongyang. There was only one problem, which caused huge offence when he couldn't resist pointing it out: no goats.

It's easy to see dictators' wives as Lady Macbeth figures but I suspect they're more often accomplices than instigators. Asma al-Assad seems as greedy and unprincipled as her husband, but his family ruled Syria like mafia dons long before she came on the scene. And in Ri's case, we don't even know whether she had any choice in the matter. A South Korean news agency has suggested she was hand-picked as Kim's bride by his father, the late dictator, and "received etiquette training for about six months before taking on the role of first lady".

Trophy bag, trophy wife? Either way, I don't think we should expect to see Vogue profiling the "rose of Pyongyang" any time soon.

www.politicalblonde.com; twitter.com/@polblonde

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer (Java /C# Programmer)- London

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global investment management fi...

Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CCNP, Cisco, London)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CC...

Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, Cisco, CISSP)

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, C...

Senior Network Engineer-(Design, Implementation, CCIE)

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(Design, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition