The world hasn't seen her likes since the pneumatic Diana Dors stalked the buttoned-down, post-war era. Yet to David Belcher Paula Yates is demonstrably not the world's greatest talent in any of her chosen fields of employment - but gets better paid than most of us for all her manifest failings.

WHAT is Paula Yates for? This question has plagued mankind since the dawn of creation, or at least since the time Ms Yates first attained public prominence by snagging herself a headline-worthy star, the Blessed St Bob of Geldof, in 1978.

Eighteen years have elapsed, and still we seem no nearer to knowing the point of Ms Yates's existence, other than having it defined by her relationships with male rock stars.

In February last year she forsook Bob for Australian raunch-rocker Michael Hutchence, the father of her forthcoming child. Earlier this month, following a row, she broke a window at Bob's house. More recently she has been priming the pump for a favourable divorce settlement by painting a picture of herself as a woman on the verge of bankruptcy, facing eviction from the #500,000 London home whose mortgage she can allegedly no longer afford.

Despite the fact that she's now earning an estimated #100,000 a year as a tabloid columnist, Paula has been whingeing that miserly Bob only hands out the derisory weekly sum of #300 for her to feed herself and their three children. And - indignity upon indignity! - Bob expects to be shown the receipts, the beast.

I ask you: could you feed your family on a paltry #15,600 per annum? The answer is plain: yes, we bloody could - rather handsomely, in fact.

It leads to another question, too: what has Paula actually done in her 36-year lifespan, other than having her breasts surgically enlarged? The tone of Paula's career was set in 1980 by her first book - if an A4-format 86-page paperback called Rock Stars In Their Underpants actually qualifies as a book.

Despite its title there is a complete absence of rock stars and/or underpants from its cover. Instead, there is - you've guessed - an airbrushed photo of Paula Yates in an off-the-shoulder gold lame gown. The cover depended on the combined efforts of three men, a photographer, a stylist, and a dress designer. And looking at Paula's exposed right arm, it was probably a bloke who tattooed it with the fanciful scroll containing a single word: Hell.

Looking for a new definition of hell? Glance at the cover of Paula's forthcoming 144-pager - Paula Yates' Beauty Tips: How To Look Like A Goddess When You Feel Like A Dog, practically a giveaway at #9.99 from publishers Thorsons on April 22. Hell is saucy, shapely, wealthy blondes with nannies on tap playing al fresco peek-a-boo under a beach towel, trying to kid harassed-to-death, impoverished, nanny-free women that they can easily do likewise.

Recall Paula's last spell of full-time employment. As a recumbent interviewer on Channel 4's Big Breakfast show, made by Bob's TV production company, she daily lay next to a procession of semi-famous blokes on a pink bed, flirting, pouting, and fluttering her eyelashes.

Her numerous other TV appearances can best be summed up as a prolonged bout of petty attention-seeking, too.

Additionally, Paula has assembled a number of fact-lite, read-free, book-shaped pamphlets in which she has dispensed to other women advice on marriage and motherhood which she herself has felt free to ignore. Stay at home with your children, was one of gadabout Paula's most famous injunctions, one which was greeted with nationwide scepticism.

Her recent autobiography earned her a reputed #150,000 advance and contained sufficient sex-related confessions about her childhood and adolescence to earn Paula maximum publicity.

Indeed, Paula's mother, who was born Elaine Smith in Blackpool prior to her re-invention in the 1960s as Heller Toren, bodice-ripping author and saucy continental film actress, had but one thing to say about her daughter's book: ``I didn't know she was writing a novel . . . fiction is always more interesting than the truth; everything is so distorted.''

So how should we regard Paula's tales about her dad, Jess Yates, the organ-playing TV religious presenter who was disgraced in the seventies by News of the World revelations about his adultery? Did he really imprison young Paula at home in an orange box? Is it true that, at the tragically advanced age of 12, Paula was wearing leather knickers and dabbling in sex and drugs?

Paula claims she was. Paula's mum says not.

Of one thing and one thing only can we be sure. Paula Yates is the very definition of a modern celebrity; she is simply famous for being famous. And famous not merely for a fleeting 15 minutes, pace Andy Warhol, but for nearly two decades. Paula fills acres of space in the British news media at a rate that few others outwith royalty can manage.

Indeed, an electronic story count reveals that in the year to date, there have been a staggering 472 articles about Paula Yates in the more responsible segments of the British press.

Never mind the sleazy tabloid newspapers, look at the prurient quality broadsheets. Organs as disparate as Lloyd's List, the European, and the Economist have tut-tutted about Paula's desertion of a Boomtown Rat in favour of a Down-Under dalliance.

Paula's tangled love life and high times have featured in the pages of the Times Educational Supplement; the Irish Times; the Financial Times. Eighteen years after her bare-all debut as a teenaged pin-up in the smut-mag Penthouse, she did likewise - albeit aided by those mammarian implants - on the cover of the Sunday Times colour supplement.

As surely as the Daily Telegraph deems Paula Yates to be of interest to its spluttering readership of retired colonels in Woking, so the London Evening Standard calls upon her to act as a momentary diversion to strap-hanging commuters on the Northern Line. Meanwhile, how many flat-capped ferret-breeders in Darlington have been lining cages with the Northern Echo's reports of Paula's latest doings in the past 12 months?

These are, of course, gross regional stereotypes, but perhaps they serve to illustrate the way in which Paula Yates has herself become a gross stereotype. For Paula Yates is this country's moral warning made flesh - God-given flesh wilfully and exquisitely despoiled by the tattooist's needle in Paula's case, to boot.

Not since that distant buttoned-down post-war era when the pneumatic Diana Dors stalked the earth has one woman been held up as such a symbol. Paula Yates is the erstwhile suicide-blonde - dyed by her own hand - who is bound for perdition.

As such, she is ripe for endless trial by us spotless puritans in the media.

Last year's publication of her autobiography occasioned particular outrage in what used to be Fleet Street.

What about the harmful effects of all Paula's sexual revelations on her children, a newspaper columnist asked before wheeling out one Carol Topolski, a London-based psycho-analytic psycho-therapist, to delight us with the ghastly psycho-ailments awaiting the ludicrously-named Fifi Trixibelle, aged 12, Peaches, six, and Pixie, four.

``A siren-like, very sexual mother is putting her daughter in a difficult position because in effect she is occupying her daughter's place. This means either the daughter has to stop her own growth and resist growing up into a young woman and competitor to her own mother, or she becomes siren-like herself and takes on her mother at her own game.

``With her mother a porn star and her father a philandering vicar, sex was writ large for Paula throughout her own childhood. In spite of wanting to protect her own children from that, her high-profile sexuality will have been dangerously intrusive for them. It seems she could not escape her own mothering inheritance.''

It also apparently explains Paula's choice of cruelly-absurd names for her poor girls, names better suited to high-stepping ponies in the circus ring than human beings. ``Part of an urge to keep them performing in her and her mother's image,'' according to Ms Topolski.

Of course, there is another school of media-thinking which would hail Paula Yates as a true feminist icon: a woman who used what resources she'd got to get what she wanted . . . money and power.

Feminist self-determination and Paula Yates? They simply don't belong in the same sentence, a thought which must have occurred to Paula during an unfortunate appearance she made as a panellist on Have I Got News For You last year.

Barely was the ill-considered word ``sisterhood'' out of Paula's mouth than Private Eye's editor Ian Hislop was in there, carving her up with his satirist's Stanley knife. Sisterhood? Michael Hutchence's dumped ex-girlfriend, supermodel Helena Christensen, might react rather badly to Paula's use of that term, Hislop opined. Paula was reduced to mumbling something bitter about Hislop being Satan's spawn.

Few viewers could have heard it through their righteous guffaws.

In the final analysis, who and what is Paula Yates?

Paula Yates is demonstrably not the world's greatest talent in any of her chosen fields of employment.

Yet the same things could be said of most of the rest of us at one time or another. What irks many of us, however, is that Paula gets better paid for all her manifest failings.

This has been story No 473 about Paula Yates. There will undoubtedly be many, many more in the years to come. And if we never gain another iota of insight into Paula Yates's worth, we will have learned one thing: we, the not-so-great British public, love to have someone to whom we can feel superior.

The moral health of the nation, safe in our untattooed hands, huh?