Rowling: paparazzi made me hostage in my home
Author criticises 'unjustifiably intrusive' behaviour of media
Published 25/11/2011 | 05:00
JK Rowling has described feeling like "a hostage" in her own home as it came "under siege" from the paparazzi following the success of her Harry Potter books.
The author told the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics that she had fought a running battle with the media to protect her privacy, and particularly that of her three children, taking legal action more than 50 times over a 14-year period.
But despite her best efforts, she had been unable to prevent "private" pictures of her daughter going around the world "like a virus" on the internet.
After taking an oath under her full name of Joanne Kathleen Rowling, the 46-year-old writer, who rarely speaks in public, said she was a passionate believer in the freedom of the press and saluted "truly heroic" journalists who risked their lives to expose the truth about war and famine.
She did not, however, mince her words when it came to the "illegal and unjustifiably intrusive" behaviour of some tabloid journalists, adding: "I wonder sometimes why they're called the same thing."
She said it had been "a shock" when she became "so well-known so quickly", adding that "when you become well-known, no one gives you a guidebook".
With her husband, Neil Murray, sitting in the public gallery of the hearing at the High Court in London, she said she had been guided by her strong belief that "children do best when they are kept out of the public eye and their home life is secure".
She quickly discovered how difficult it would be to ensure that when she experienced "the first burst of publicity" after the first Harry Potter book, published in 1997, became a bestseller.
Her eldest daughter came home from primary school and, she said: "I unzipped her bag and among the usual notes from school and debris, I found a letter from a journalist.
"I felt such a sense of invasion. It's very difficult to say how angry I felt that my five-year-old daughter's school was no longer a place of complete security from journalists."
After buying a house with the advance for the first book, Ms Rowling was horrified to see pictures of it, including the street name and house number, appear in the press, and moved as a result, but had been forced to take legal action when pictures of three subsequent homes were published.
As a result, photographers would camp outside her house. "It really was like being under siege, or being a hostage.
"Clearly I can't put an invisibility cloaking device around myself or my house, nor would I wish to," she said, referring to one of Harry Potter's magical artefacts. "I want to live in as normal as way as possible."
She said that when the seventh and final Potter book was about to be published in 2007, a journalist contacted the head of her daughter's school, and suggested that she had "distressed fellow pupils by revealing that Harry Potter dies in the final Harry Potter book".
She went on: "My daughter was being characterised as some sort of bully, but there was not a word of truth in it. There had been no complaint.
"My daughter could not have possibly known what was in book seven because, by her own request, she did not want to know. To approach my daughter's school was outrageous."
In 2004 the 'Daily Express' alleged that Ms Rowling had based the character of the self-obsessed teacher Gilderoy Lockhart on her former husband, after she told a group of children that she had based him on "someone I lived with briefly". In fact, she was referring to a former flatmate.
She was not, however, asked whether anyone in particular had inspired one of her most vile characters, the shape-shifting, manipulative journalist Rita Skeeter, who appears to embody all that she loathes about the tabloid press.
Asked by Lord Justice Leveson whether she had any ideas on the regulation of the media, she said: "I can't pretend I have a magical answer -- no Harry Potter joke intended." The hearing continues on Monday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)