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North Korea

The Clapton fan who could succeed Kim

A man thought to be Kim Jong-chul at an Eric Clapton gig in Singapore in 2011. Park Ji-hwan/AFP/Getty Images

When Kim Jong-un dies, most people think his sister Kim Yo-jong will replace him as leader of North Korea. She’s 34, outspoken and the second most powerful person in the country. But they’re forgetting Kim Jong-chul, the Supreme Leader’s mysterious older brother, says Donald Kirk in the Daily Beast.

Until now, Kim Jong-chul has never been a prime candidate for power. His father, Kim Jong-il, dismissed him as a successor on account of his being “like a little girl”. And compared to his bullish younger brother, he was “not exactly dictator material”. Reports say the effeminate 40-year-old lives a quiet life alone in Pyongyang, playing guitar in a band and keeping a low profile. The only thing anyone really knows about him is that he’s a “veritable Clapton groupie”, having travelled the world to see Eric Clapton in concert. He went to Germany in 2006, then Singapore in 2011, and in 2015 he shelled out more than £2,000 a night to stay in London and watch Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall. That’s the last time anyone saw him.

This silent strategy might pay off. “Nobody hates him,” says the former president of the Korea Institute for National Unification, Kim Tae-woo. If he keeps out of trouble, “Kim Jong-chul could take the titles”. What’s more, it doesn’t matter if he’s suited to the job, says the president of the Centre for Strategic and Cultural Studies in Seoul, Choi Jin-wook. “The Kim family are godlike figures. In North Korea the most important qualification is to be a family member.” So don’t rule out Kim Jong-chul. His elevation “is a very feasible scenario”.