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Hype forced J K Rowling to make herself disappear; EXCLUSIVE TRUTH BEHIND THE PHENOMENON.

Byline: SEAN SMITH J K Rowling's unofficial biographer

TEN years ago Joanne Rowling was trapped by her own poverty. Today she is a prisoner of her enormous fame.

The woman who once lived on a pounds 69 benefit cheque a week is now a fabulously rich woman worth an estimated pounds 280million. She is the superstar of the literary world - but her celebrity means she is reluctant to wheel her new baby David down the street or to the park, as she did with her first child Jessica.

Nor can she seek inspiration in the coffee shops of Edinburgh, where she wrote much of the first Harry Potter book while Jessica slept in her pram beside her. Baby David may be heir to a multi-million-pound fortune but Jessica, now 10, had the freedom of a normal, if poverty-stricken childhood.

Today the Rowling family live behind the highest-tec security system - all too familiar to the Beckhams and the Robbie Williamses of this world, but unprecedented for a children's author. Her homes have become mini-fortresses. Her children live behind a 9ft wall and electronic security gates, intended to keep out intruders and prying eyes.

Visitors have noted that there is something rather sad about the place. You can imagine Jessica arriving home from school and reaching up to punch in the top-secret code to get inside her own home.

The trouble with keeping the world out is that your own home can easily turn into a prison. Joanne has said: "I was happier as an impoverished and unpublished writer than I have ever been as a solvent and mediocre executive."

But the fame and riches will get even greater when the next instalment in Harry Potter's adventure hits the bookshops. The publicity machine is cranking itself up to full-scale Harry mania in preparation for the launch of Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix on June 21.

There is to be a pounds 200,000 movie-style premiere party in Piccadilly, London. WH Smith will dress up King's Cross station as Platform 93/4, where Harry and his friends catch the magic school train to Hogwarts.

A Waterstones branch is turning itself into Diagon Alley, the wizard's equivalent of Oxford Street, previously accessible only by hurling flue-powder into a fireplace or through the Leaky Cauldron pub. And Ottakars in Burton on Trent, Staffs, will have a replica of the Weasley boys' flying Ford Anglia.

Copies of the fifth Harry Potter will be delivered in unmarked vans to bookstores in a covert exercise named Operation Hedwig, after Harry's post-delivering owl.

The promotional campaign will be more like the marketing of a rock star than the literary scene's usual wine and canapes. So carefully guarded is the new manuscript that the publishers have taken out an injunction to prevent newspapers revealing the plot.

Meanwhile, Joanne, 37, will be at home in Scotland, looking after her three-month-old baby. She will appear only twice during the campaign: opposite Jeremy Paxman in a prerecorded TV interview, and again at a children's Q&A in the Albert Hall hosted by Potter fanatic Stephen Fry, which will be webcast around the world.

There, she will have bodyguards on hand - for security is a very sensitive issue for J K Rowling. To add to her legal ordeal as she fought a false accusation of plagiarism in the United States, she had to suffer the modern-day celebrity nightmare of a stalker near her home.

She is not often seen out and about in Edinburgh, where she has her main home. She has declined an invitation to appear at the Edinburgh Book Festival, where she was once a welcome and crowd-pulling guest.

Rather than live in the showbiz goldfish bowl, she prefers the company of her new husband, 31-year-old Dr Neil Murray, Jessica and David. Occasionally she ventures out with close friends - but only if she can trust their discretion.

Since the fiasco of the Hogwarts gravy train - when she was mobbed at the launch of the fourth Harry Potter, The Goblet Of Fire, at King's Cross in 2000 - her admirers have rarely had a glimpse of her.

She has, however, appeared at events held to support her favourite charities, such as MS Scotland. Her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when Joanne was 15 and died at the age of 45.

In London, Joanne has a home in Kensington which she bought for pounds 4.5million. The Georgian-style house has an underground pool, underfloor heating and, most important of all, 24-hour security.

For weekends and to get away from it all, there is the pounds 1million Killiechassie House on the banks of the River Tay in rural Perthshire. The stone-built house has six bedrooms, a dressing-room, a drawing-room, a library and a study for all things Harry Potter.

It is a place for much-needed relaxation, and in the nearby village of Aberfeldy the locals are fiercely protective of their most famous citizen's privacy.

It seems incredible that as recently as 1999 Joanne and Jessica were living in a modest terrace house in Edinburgh where everyone kept an eye out for one another and burglar alarm salesmen never called.

Today her immense riches have transformed her life.

She is Britain's highest-earning woman after selling more than 160 million books in 200 countries. Amazingly, the first Harry Potter in 1996 had a print run of just 1,000.

Harry is an international icon and the world wants a slice of his creator. But Joanne is determined to live her own life, away from the spotlight and the hangers-on and downright weirdoes drawn to it.

If only she could have her very own magic invisibility cloak - just like the one she gave Harry in those incredibly successful books.



WARY: J K Rowling hates the attention her global fame has brought
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 10, 2003
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