It’s not every day – or decade even - that ITV1 dedicates a one-hour show to a literary figure in the primetime Emmerdale and Corrie slots. In JK Rowling: A Year in the Life, the Harry Potter author known as Jo denied her fortune was anything near half a billion quid: probably an honest but not entirely accurate answer. I don’t believe she knows her actual worth in monetary terms. She’s just too rich. As early as 2004 Forbes was heralding her as the first billion dollar author.
“Unlike [Oprah] Winfrey, Rowling has created a treasure chest of intellectual property that any media firm could buy - if she were willing to sell - and continue the Harry Potter franchise. The series is going to generate billions more in revenue just from the seven-book series,” the magazine speculated.
Rowling is soooooooo rich and powerful that Bloomsbury chartered a private jet to fly her and her bearded doctor husband to the “premiere” of the final Potter book (Is there a Harry Potter carbon trail?) Dr Beardie told James Runcie – the show-maker son of Lord Runcie (balls), the former Archbishop of Canterbury – that under pressure Jo tended to freeze out everyone and take total self-control: a worthy and essential characteristic of a fiction writer I’d say.
Such is Rowling’s stature as a money-spinner, Hollywood came to her to talk her through a proposed Harry Potter theme park in Orlando (due to open 2009). She looked quite mystified as some corporate-speaker gobbledygooked his way through one “sonic”-something-or-other game that would only speak when stood in front of. Diagrams and illustrations were pointed at as Jo’s blonde blades turned into face curtains – she has a hairstyle designed for impromptu shielding of shyness or awkwardness, achieved by dislodging nods and head leans, which adds to that “publicity-shy” reputation she has.
She was seen baking a birthday cake or flan for one of her kids. Earlier that day I’d read Cleo Roccos’ fascinating Benazir Bhutto memoir in the News of the World: Kenny Everett's muse recounted visiting a Costcutter store with her “close friend” where the late former Prime Minister of Pakistan headed straight for the tinned tomatoes (I think). Those tomatoes and Jo’s cake (it started out as a chocolate goo) somehow merged in my mind and I thought of Edna Everage, Housewife Superstar, of Shirley Conran, Superwoman, – all those versatile genius bitches – and then wondered whether I’d ever seen their male superstar counterparts ever bake a cake or buy tomatoes in a TV show or media profile (unless they’re Jamie Oliver). We’re too far out of the 20th Century to start harping on about feminism and sexual stereotypes. But the sight of a female dollar billionaire author baking a cake in a suburban kitchen was deemed necessary by someone.
Jo’s parents had wanted her to be a boy and dressed her in blue for a while. Had she turned out a lesbian, people would have said, “Well, there you go.” Likewise, had she not turned into a blockbuster industry, people would have said, “Fancy wasting her time fantasising when she could get a proper job.” Her great success enables her to speak of her clinical depression (from a failed first marriage and penury) without people saying: “She’s quite, er, fragile, isn’t she? Is she well?” Celebrity has rechristened these negatives into life-affirming anecdotes – and there’s nothing like a glamourising TV homage to make it look all so fated.
Fortunately, Jo is level-headed, normal, entirely decent. There's not a false bone in her body. I think she knows that what people say now in her honour, and what they might have said in disdain had things turned out very differently, is all bollocks.
And on that note, have a Happy New Year.