Profile: JK Rowling, author

JOANNE Rowling has got more cash than Croesus, more degrees than Einstein and a property portfolio edging up into Donald Trump territory.

• Joanne Rowling has relaxed into fame. This is the woman who invited Charles and Camilla for dinner, who routinely arrives at award ceremonies wearing glamorous dresses Photograph: PA

She's the most famous author on the planet, the owner of one of the most successful film franchises of all time, and she's sitting on a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine to be over a billion dollars.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Yet she's on the cusp of a new life, and for the first time since 1995 it's one that doesn't revolve around her wildly popular literary creation. When the film version of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows hits the screens this week, the series will have run its course, just as the books did.

But what will our heroine do next? The planet's favourite wordsmith is happily married with children, and with the time and resources now to pursue whatever pet or philanthropic projects take her fancy. So what exactly lies in store for JK Rowling?

She says that she "will spend a whole lot more time" with her family, which means her daughter Jessica and second husband Neil Murray, the bearded, down-to-earth Edinburgh anaesthetist she married in 2001 and with whom she has two sons, David and Mackenzie. She also says that she will continue to write, and although she thinks it unlikely, hasn't ruled out an eighth Harry Potter novel "one day down the line".

She has already said that she's written a few short stories and a "political fairy story" for younger children, and will look at a Potter encyclopedia in a while, but other than that she has been suitably vague. Even allowing for Rowling's occasional poker-faced inscrutability, this is almost certainly because she has yet to decide how to fill her life post-Harry.

If all other options fail, however, she could do worse than sit back and simply bask in the warm glow of global adulation. It appears that, in Rowling's case if you don't know what to give the woman who has everything, you give her an award. Where once she received an almost indecent amount of accolades from Nestle, Smarties and Lego for her children's fiction, these days the gongs are more grown-up.

There is the OBE and Legion D'Honneur bestowed upon her by British and French governments grateful that someone is enticing our gaming-addled kids to embrace reading, and there would even have been a Presidential Medal of Freedom had George Bush not baulked at honouring someone who is famous primarily for evangelising the benefits of witchcraft.Rowling's gong-worthiness has never been more perfectly exemplified than in the last six months. In May, Good Housekeeping, one of the guardians of Middle America's flame, named her as one of its "125 women who changed the world", placing her alongside Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks and Princess Diana. Scarcely a month goes by without some stellar honour being bestowed.

Named last month by the nation's top magazine editors as the most influential woman in Britain, easily edging out the Queen, Victoria Beckham and the Prime Minister's wife SamCam, a YouGov poll of people over 16 years of age for AOL then found she was the celebrity most women wanted to be, polling almost seven times as many votes as Her Majesty and 26 times more votes than Jordan. Rowling attracted as many votes as Michelle Obama when it came to choosing the most influential woman in the history of the world.

Rowling now has the world at her feet, a remarkable turnaround for a woman who once battled clinical depression and was plagued by suicidal thoughts while surviving off benefits of 70 a week as a single mother. The story of how Harry Potter came into this world - of how a four-hour delay on her train journey between Manchester and London lit the fuse of her imagination, of how she brought her flight of fancy to life while in Edinburgh, writing her children's novel in Nicolson's Cafe as she eked out cups of espresso - has passed into folklore, but it also holds some clues as to her future direction.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

For a start, there's the charity, an area to which she has become increasingly committed, with substantial donations to organisations for artists and performers, Medicins Sans Frontieres, the Madeleine McCann appeal, the setting up of an organisation called Lumos to campaign for institutionalised children in Eastern Europe and the donation of 22 million to Comic Relief. Rowling's attitude towards philanthropy has been shaped by personal tragedy and by her lowest ebb as a single mother.

Her personal tragedy was the death of her mother, Anne, from multiple sclerosis on Hogmanay when Rowling was just 25. The daughter watched as a mother who had once been a keen gardener who swam, played tennis, badminton and walked the dog for miles each day, gradually declined and then, on the first Christmas that her daughter had spent away from home, died. It was a blow from which Rowling struggled to recover and the sense of deep grief that she felt from the loss of her mother at just 45 was echoed in Harry's yearning for his own mother.Appalled by the Scottish Government's unwillingness to devote money to research, especially as Scotland has a higher incidence of MS than any other country in the world, as soon as Rowling had money to spare, she set up the Volant Trust -named after her mother's maiden name - which has an annual budget of 5.1m and, in 2006, donated enough money to set up the The Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic at the University of Edinburgh, donating a further 10m this year.

If Rowling is still haunted by the knowledge that MS has a hereditary component ("the only time I've ever been scared was when I hurt my back and my legs went numb for a while"), the other ghosts of her past don't inspire fear but a frothing anger. In particular, the stigma and poverty Rowling experienced as a single mother at a time when the Tories were busy demonising one-woman families, has forged a determination to improve the lot of the ghettoised caste to which she once belonged.

She says that when she left her first husband and became a single mother, "I knew perfectly well that I was walking into poverty, which, as I soon found out, is a lot like childbirth - you know that it's going to hurt before it happens but you'll never know how much until you've experienced it. Some articles written about me have come close to romanticising the time I spent on Income Support, because the well-worn cliche of the writer starving in the garret is so much more picturesque than the bitter reality of living in poverty with a child and experiencing the endless little humiliations of life on benefits."

Rowling has talked emotionally of getting to the checkout and finding herself pennies short of the price of a tin of baked beans; of visiting Mothercare simply to use the free nappies; of dressing her daughter Jessica (named after Rowling's heroine, the left-wing activist Jessica Mitford) from charity shops.

Her determination to raise funds and profile for what she once referred to as "the cause" led Rowling to become a patron of the National Council For One Parent Families, as well as one of its major donors. It also led her into a new world when it brought her into contact with the then Chancellor Gordon Brown's wife Sarah, another patron and the co-editor of Magic, a collection of short stories sold to raise money for the NCOPF.

The two quickly became firm friends, and have remained so, with Rowling not only one of the first people to see Sarah after the birth of her son Fraser in 2003, but making several impassioned defences of Brown's premiership and donating 1m to Labour. Rowling's relationship with Sarah Brown seems to have been a watershed, a meeting that has bolstered her determination to help the weak in society, but also one that has led to a fundamental change in her persona. Always something of a publicity-shy enigma, she may still guard her privacy, with a heap of barbed wire, CCTV and a 150,000-a-year ex-SAS bodyguard to keep her homes in Edinburgh, Tayside and London inviolate, but she has become increasingly at ease with her public role.

Although Rowling remains incandescent at some of the activities of the tabloid press, particularly photos taken of her and her daughter on the beach in Mauritius and a journalist going through her bin, she has at last reached an accommodation with her fame. "I never wanted it (fame] and I never expected it and certainly never worked for it, and I see it as something I have to get through really," she said. "I imagined being a famous writer would be like being Jane Austen, being able to sit at home in the vicarage. I didn't think they'd rake through my bins. I didn't expect to be photographed on the beach through long lenses."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Yet, financially secure and domestically blissful, Rowling has relaxed into her fame. This is the woman who invited Charles and Camilla for dinner, who routinely arrives at award ceremonies wearing glamorous dresses with plunging neck lines. She's even having fun spending her money, becoming a collector of Scottish artist Sandy Fraser and renovating her Perthshire mansion. One thing for sure is that she's not going to feel burdened by her money, or guilty at the privileges it bestows because "if you've literally been worrying 'will the money last until the end of the week?' you will never, ever complain about having money".

Shorn of the need to succeed, whether or not Rowling will ever be able to write anything to rival Harry Potter or whether, like Ian Fleming and Dan Brown, she is an enormously successful one-trick literary pony, will only become clear in time. More apparent is the fact that her philanthropy and family will continue to fill the place in her life once occupied by the young wizard. Those who know her best insist she has barely changed in the past years.

"She is a very straightforward, modest person; it is not in her nature to be flashy," said old friend Rosamund de la Hey. "Her circumstances may change, but she won't."

Wild about Harry

• Rowling's books were the first children's books included on the New York Times best seller list since EB White's Charlotte's Web in 1952.

• In a Broughton Street coffee shop called Artisan Roast hangs a framed notice which reads: "JK Rowling never wrote here."

• Rowling is the first person to become a billionaire (in US dollars) by writing books.

• The driver and conductor of the Knight Bus, Ernie and Stanley, are named after Rowling's grandfathers.

• In Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, a portrait of Anne Boleyn can be seen on the moving staircase - she was widely accused of being a witch.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

• Demelza Robins, the Gryffindor Chaser in Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, is named after Daniel Radcliffe's favourite charity: the Demelza House Children's Hospice, which cares for terminally ill youngsters in Kent, East Sussex and South London.

• Rowling's self-confessed reaction to completing the final instalment of the Harry Potter saga was to down half a bottle of champagne in one and go home with mascara all over her face.

• In the Spanish translation of the Harry Potter books, Neville Longbottom's pet toad Trevor is translated, mistakenly, as a turtle.

• The Weasleys' turquoise Ford Anglia was based on the car of Sean Harris, a friend of Rowling's to whom she dedicated the second book, calling him her "Getaway Driver and Foulweather Friend".