Ri Sol-ju was pictured accompanying husband Kim Jong-un as he visited Beijing this week – but just who is the dictator’s wife?
Very little is known about Ri, including her exact age, who her parents are and what her life was like before marrying Kim.
Even her name remains a mystery, as observers believe Ri is actually a pseudonym designed to keep her life before marriage a secret.
Kim Jong-un visited China this week alongside his seldom-seen wife, Ri Sol-ju. Little is known about her, including her age, who her parents are, and whether Ri is even her real name
It is widely believed that Ri was a singer before meeting Kim, and may have once been part of a North Korean cheerleading squad that visited the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships
Ri and Kim met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan in Beijing this week in his first foreign visit as Supreme Leader
She was first pictured on Kim’s arm in 2012 at a concert and North Korea subsequently confirmed she was Kim’s wife, but said nothing else about her.
She then appeared with him multiple times between 2012 and 2014 before largely disappearing from public view until recently, when her presence became much more pronounced.
Sources speaking in the South Korean media when she was first identified said she is a former cheerleader and singer, and gave her date of birth as some time between 1985 and 1989.
She was said to have been pictured in 2005 visiting South Korea during the Asian Athletics Championships as part of the North Korean cheerleading squad.
Others said she was a singer with the Unhasu orchestra who may have performed for Kim and his father, Kim Jong-il, during a New Year concert in 2010.
‘There is a possibility Jong-un chose her as his wife after seeing her at the concert hall,’ the Chosun Ilbo newspaper said at the time.
Ri was first seen with Kim in 2012 at a concert and then a water park (pictured). North Korean media initially said nothing about her before confirming she was his wife
Ri (pictured in 2012) is believed to have married Kim in 2009 or 2010 and likely gave birth to their first child soon afterwards
We know Kim and Ri have a second child, named Ju-ae, because the information was given away by Dennis Rodman in an interview. They are also rumored to have a third
There was a North Korean singer by the name of Ri Sol-ju, the BBC reported, but it has never been confirmed if she and Ki’ms wife are the same person.
South Korean security services agree that she is a singer, but say her name is actually Hyon Song-wol and was changed after marriage.
Elsewhere, the BBC reported that Ri was hastily married to Kim in 2009 as part of a succession plan drawn up by Kim Jong-il after he suffered a stroke.
It is believed she gave birth to their first child the following year with subsequent births taking place in 2013 and possibly in 2016, after she disappeared from public.
According to US basketball star Dennis Rodman, who is an unlikely friend of Kim, their middle child is called Ju-ae, after he let the information slip in an interview.
Nothing is known about the other children.
Ri was often pictured with Kim between 2012 and 2014 (above) but then disappeared from view, causing speculation of another pregnancy
Kim and Ri pictured at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang, in December 2016. This was the first time she had been seen in public for eight months
Ri has appeared in public several times recently, including during a parade in Pyongyang to mark the found of the country’s military
Before marrying Kim, Ri was reportedly sent to Kim Il-sung University, the country’s most prestigious, to study a six-month course in being the first lady.
It has also been reported that she obtained a science degree from the same university years earlier.
According to AFP Ri was born in the northeastern province of North Hamkyong to an academic father and a doctor mother.
That would make her part of the political elite, since such positions are reserved only for those who are most loyal to the regime.
She is also said to be related to Ri Pyong-chol, a former air force general and close advisor of Kim Jong-un.
Ri is also known for her love of fine fashion, which is unusual in North Korea.
When she was first described by the country’s press she was said to be wearing ‘a trim black suit in the Chanel tradition’ and once gifted a Dior bag to Kenji Fujimoto, Kim Jong-il’s sushi chef.
Fujimoto claimed to have met her and described her as ‘just so charming… I cannot describe her voice, it’s so soft…’.
South Korean diplomats who traveled to the North for talks with Kim Jong-un recently said Ri joined him at the negotiating table.
They said the pair were an affectionate couple and ‘seemed equal’.