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Rowling conjures up house for close friend

ONE is a millionaire author who has become Britain’s wealthiest self-made woman, the other works as an office clerk.

Yet the bond between the Harry Potter author, JK Rowling and her close friend Fiona Wilson, forged when they were both single mothers living in Edinburgh, is clearly a very strong one.

The Scots-based writer has become the latest celebrity to use her wealth to reward loyalty by giving Fiona a 150,000 flat in one of Edinburgh’s most desirable areas.

Ms Rowling, 36, signed over the Merchiston property where she wrote the Potter sequels to Ms Wilson, 40.

The friends, who have daughters the same age, met before the writer’s fictitious wizard turned her from a penniless single parent to the richest woman in Scotland.

They became friends eight years ago when they lived close to each other in the Leith area and both were struggling to bring up their children alone.

Ms Rowling’s generous gift, revealed yesterday, was a token of her appreciation for her friend’s companionship during her early difficult days.

Her munificence echoes the generosity of chat show host Oprah Winfrey, who has frequently splashed out on her best friend, Gayle King. She has paid for schooling for Gayle’s children, a nanny, a swimming pool and a BMW.

Ms Rowling, who survived on 85 a week in benefits while bringing up daughter Jessica, is now worth 226 million, according to the annual Sunday Times Rich List.

Ms Rowling has one of Britain’s fastest-growing fortunes - rising at an estimated 3 million every week through royalties and interest - and has overtaken Madonna, now worth 200 million with her husband Guy Ritchie, since last year’s list was published.

When women who inherited tens of millions are taken out of the list, Ms Rowling is Britain’s wealthiest woman.

Ms Rowling, who quietly married Dr Neil Murray on Boxing Day, was the 15th biggest climber in the league of the UK’s 1,000 richest people, rising to 147th position from 526th last year, when she was worth an estimated 65 million.

She was also the third richest woman after the Queen, earning the equivalent of 81,480 for a 38-hour week.

Around 130 million copies of her books have been sold so far, with only the Bible being translated into more languages. The film version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was an enormous box office hit and has already taken 650 million.

Ms Rowling has a deal giving her 1 per cent of box office profits and it is thought she will net five pence for every 1 of Potter merchandise sold. Disney has already paid 49 million for the US TV rights to the film.

With three more books of the seven-strong series in the pipeline and another six films in the series, she could add another 100 million or more to her fortune.

The flat gifted to Fiona, a mother-of-two, was where Ms Rowling lived when she learned Hollywood film makers had decided to launch Harry Potter on to the big screen.

She bought the property for just 40,000 in 1998 but its value has since soared to almost four times that.

A woman who lived close to the author in Leith said: "JK Rowling was not well known in those days. People helped her out with furniture and it seems she and Fiona were brought together because they were both single mothers with young children. They were friendly from the outset and have remained close."

Ms Wilson declined to comment on the generous gesture of her friend but her father James, from Glasgow, said: "Joanne and Fiona are good friends and Joanna is also a friend of mine. We respect her privacy."

Other celebrities to share her new-found wealth with those close to them include Liverpool and England footballer Michael Owen, who splashed out 750,000 on a whole cul-de-sac of houses, in Hawarden, North Wales, for his family.

If that wasn’t enough, he then treated them to a 52,000 sunshine break in Dubai and surprised them by parking cars for them outside their houses on their return.

The Spice girl, Mel B, forked out 500,000 for a house for her mum after her pop success.

RICH LIST: TRANSPORT TYCOON TOPS LEAGUE OF GENEROUS GIVERS

THE Scots transport tycoon Brian Souter is Britain’s most generous millionaire, according to the Sunday Times rich list.

The Stagecoach owner, said to have a fortune of 301 million with his sister, Ann Gloag, gave 1.5 million to charity last year through his trust, the Souter Foundation.

Mr Souter topped the league of generous givers, published for the first time as part of the Rich List yesterday.

His huge donation last year represented 41.1 per cent of the assets of his personal charitable trust and went mainly to humanitarian relief at home and abroad. Mr Souter’s generosity far surpassed others on the table of donors - second placed was Stephen Rubin, who donated 14.5 per cent (500,000) of the assets of his Rubin Foundation. Mr Souter is also said to have handed 1 million from his personal fortune to Glasgow University to help pay for a heart scanner.

Scotland’s 100 richest people share wealth of almost 10 billion and 80 of them - the highest number since the list was first published - were named in the UK’s wealthiest 1000.

Top of the Scots was chairman of the energy group JW Holdings, Sir Ian Wood, with a personal fortune of 661 million. He was ranked 39th in the UK wealth table.

Just behind him was Irvine Laidlaw, owner of the Institute for International Research Group and a major donor to the Conservative Party, with 500 million (56th in the UK), Paul van Vlissingen with 420 million from investments (69th), and the entrepreneur Tom Hunter, who launched Sports Division, with 400 million (74th). Kwik-Fit founder Sir Tom Farmer’s 92 million made him Scotland’s 30th richest and the UK’s 389th. The wealth of the Scots, however, was no match for that of the Duke of Westminster, named the richest man in the UK.

His personal fortune rose to 4.7 billion this year.

The wealthiest woman was Charlene de Carvalho, who, with husband Michel, is worth 2.9 billion, much of which she inherited after the death of her father, Alfred ‘Freddie’ Heineken, in January.

According to the Sunday Times, the UK’s 1000 richest people have a combined wealth of 159.7 billion - the top 100 alone were worth 79.6 billion. Tailing the Duke in second place, was Hans Rausing, whose 4.5 billion came producing cartons for milk and drinks. In third place with 3 billion was supermarket king Lord Sainsbury and his family.

An astonishing 748 of the richest 1000 were self-made millionaires, such as Philip Green, who made the fastest fortune and was also the highest climber in the list.

Mr Green, worth 1.2 billion in 13th place, left school with no qualifications and his first job was selling shoes before he went into the rag trade. He is credited with turning around the Bhs chain, of which he holds a 95 per cent stake.

Philip Beresford, who compiled the list, said Scots had performed brilliantly during a difficult year punctuated by the economic fall-out of 11 September and the foot-and-mouth crisis.

He said: "It has been an absolute record year for Scottish entrepreneurs. Their performance has been the one really bright spot this year.

"The Scottish economy may have been hit by electronics closures, foot-and-mouth and a tourism slump, but canny Scottish millionaires are growing richer."

 
 
 

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