TENSIONS over North Korea may be giving stock markets the heebie-jeebies, but at least sales in smelling salts are heading upwards like intermediate-range Hwasong-12s.

And all because a woman old enough to be some tinpot dictator’s granny decided to launch a picture of herself in a bikini on the world. Let us pray no one tells Donald Trump or he really will unleash fire and fury.

Who cares, you may be saying (about the photo, not the Trumpian fiery vengeance). Helen Mirren looked fantastic in that red bikini, like a Bond goddess emerging from the waves to collect her pension.

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Ah, but it was not Dame Helen in the two-piece this time. It was Alexandra Shulman, the 59-year-old former editor of Vogue, who took the selfie while on holiday. “Time for the boat trip” was the caption she attached, a benign little sign-off from which messrs Trump and Jong-un could learn much.

The balloon took no time in going up. Why? Because Ms Shulman looked, how can one put this without sending the horses fleeing to the underground bunkers, like an ordinary woman. She had lumps. Bumps. Wobbly bits. Veins. Most gobsmacking of all, she seemed entirely cool about it. Never mind all those T-shirts that said this is what a feminist looks like, Shulman’s picture declared that this is what your everyday woman looks like with no airbrushing, no fancy lighting, no agent standing over the image demanding picture approval.

That the photo should have caused such a stushie, with coverage in print and television, tells us something about the first world’s obsession with body image and the general invisibility of middle-aged women. “Oh look dear,” one could almost hear Middle Britain gasp, “one of them has only gone and appeared in public semi-nude instead of hiding herself away, wearing her old wedding dress and drinking gin.”

Opinion has been split between those praising Shulman for her boldness (“What an absolute inspiration to all women”), and others wondering why she had not used ordinary women in the pages of Vogue instead of thin, often startlingly so, models. Well, she has used non-models on occasion. But she was also against proposed legislation against the use of size zero models, telling ITV news: “It’s very easy to say that a skinny model is responsible for encouraging young women to feel bad about themselves, but I absolutely strongly believe that is not the case. None of us probably feel that great about how we look ... the question is when does that feeling of dissatisfaction turn into something that is really harmful. In the main it’s not the generality of looking at a model that is that tipping point.”

But then if it was not for the ability to have it both ways, the fashion industry, on which the likes of Vogue rely for survival, would go bust overnight. Fashion adores women, we are told, but its high priests make put clothes on the catwalk that would not fit the average woman’s right arm never mind make it over her thighs. Fashion creates jobs and wealth is another industry boast, yet how much of that wealth makes it down to the people at the far end of the supply chain? Even those “this is what a feminist looks like” T-shirts turned out to be made by women on poverty pay). It is also an industry that is meant to be stuffed to the gills with free thinkers, yet those who criticise it can find themselves out in the cold, as Lucinda Chambers, Vogue’s former fashion director, found when she said the clothes in the magazine were “irrelevant for most people – so ridiculously expensive”. Cut outcry, with the website that published the interview taking it down “due to its sensitive nature”, then putting it back up once it emerged so many people had already shared it.

Normally, bikinis feature on the news pages to show how this or that female celebrity (and yes, sometimes men, too) has put on the beef, with such tales usually followed several months later, as night succeeds day, with the release of a fitness DVD.

Bikini pictures are also mainstays of the weekly gossip magazines, as a quick look in the newsagents shows. In one I saw last week a picture of Coleen Rooney, wife of Wayne, was accompanied by a headline helpfully explaining that she wasn’t pregnant but had simply put on weight. Phew, eh?

Shulman’s picture is a small gesture, but all power to her selfie-taking elbow in nudging the debate about body image along a little from is she/isn’t she pregnant story and ads that ask whether you are “beach body ready”. Her lumps and bumps are out, she’s proud, and good luck to her. Just don’t forget the sunscreen, dahling.

Best and worst of times for aide

HERE is a tale of two heads. A model of one is being sculpted by the staff in Madame Tussauds, and soon it will take its place atop a body standing among other world leaders.

The other is plonked at the head of a column in a newspaper that will be lining the cat’s litter tray tomorrow.

Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Theresa May and her former special adviser Nick Timothy, the man who was once Willie to her Maggie, the aide without whom she would not have made it through those hard yards at the Home Office, nor made it to Number 10.

Is this any way to treat a former special adviser? Well, yes, if history is any guide. Politics is littered with the bodies of aides who thought they were indispensable only to find out otherwise.

In Timothy’s case it is notable that as part of his reinvention he has shaved off the Rasputin beard. Anyone would think he was trying to disguise his identity. Then again, if you had written a manifesto like the one his old boss put her name to this year, wouldn’t you?

Auntie! The net curtains please

THE glimpse of a berr-neckit lady on a screen in the background as lovely Sophie Raworth read the BBC news on Monday night should be filed under A for “accident just waiting to happen”.

One can appreciate what those who designed the set thought. Think how excited the punters will be in Birmingham or Aberdeen to see the news being processed before their eyes, like the food in a fancy restaurant.

The reality, as anyone who studies the background during the boring or irrelevant bits (A level results, cricket, etc) is that it simply looks like any other workplace. People mooch around, going to and from the toilet, asking each other if they fancy a cuppa. Occasionally, some lucky soul waves a cheerio to colleagues and heads home.

Anyway, there is likely a perfectly rational explanation for the blurry figure of a woman in flagrante. The newsroom viewer in question, having watched the news earlier in the evening, had probably forgotten to switch over from Channel 4. Come Monday, expect a pair of net curtains behind the newsreader.