Not many people get to say that. Not many people have the honour of being in their hero’s presence and not many people get to exchange words with them.
But let me start from the beginning.
As you know from my post yesterday and probably the news that J.K. Rowling had a new book come out and she celebrated it at the Southbank Centre in London with a hoard of 900 fans. She spent the day itself on a plane coming down from Edinburgh and watched Men in Black 3 with her Husband and eldest daughter.
Meanwhile fans were travelling from everywhere to get to the Southbank Centre, it was the hottest ticket in town. The must be place for the biggest release of the year. People flocked to this London location all carrying the brand new book that boasted the Gryffindor colours. The colours were bold and garish, perhaps symbolising the transition the children’s author was making, the themes she was exploring and the language she was using.
Inside was an air of jubilation, even when the foyer was mostly empty. I was one of the first in and the excitement was growing, tentative at first. More and more gather, red and yellow books everywhere, excited chatter building. The fact that J.K. Rowling was in the very same building was looming. Slowly the time ticked by, but we all had a book to read, which in itself was amazing. A crowd of 900 people all reading the same book.
Queues formed and dispersed as they filtered into the Queen Elizabeth Hall and eventually I did the same. Taking my seat I noticed that two comfy chairs and a table had been set up on the stage, the latter adorned with glasses of water and a copy of the book itself . Microphones were perched on it too. On the wall behind was a projection of the cover and beside bold, white words proclaiming the event.
On came the artistic director of the Southbank Centre to introduce the author and the journalist, saying how glad she was that a writer was getting the same reception that Lady Gaga might receive. She said how happy she was that J.K. Rowling had agreed to the event.
Soon after the interview started and J.K. Rowling came across so well, humble, eloquent and extremely funny. She made fun of herself and laughed along with Mark Lawson the journalist. When she first came on stage she was given a standing ovation.
As the interview got underway she began to joke. She revealed that the basic idea for The Casual Vacancy came to her on a plane and joked that she obviously needed to be on a vehicle in order to come up with a story and said that she was getting steadily more upmarket and that she would come up with her next story on a space shuttle.
She also didn’t realise that Barry rhymed with Harry until the press release had been published. She almost spat water in the journalist’s face when he made her laugh by saying that there was a small vulnerable character that rhymed with Dobby.
She also read from the book. The first segment she read was clean without any of the adult issues promised by all the recent reviews. But once the live streaming was switched off she read a scene between Tessa Wall and Krystal Weedon in the guidance office in which the latter character was swearing in every other sentence. Yet every person was silent, every person leaned forward in their seats, hanging on her every word. Drinking it all up because it was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Some were even reading along.
After this the audience Q&A began. Perhaps the most memorable moment of this came from a Spanish guy. He asked J.K. Rowling if he could give her a gift and said he was nervous, to which the author replied ‘you’re nervous!?’ this gained a rapturous applause because it was the perfect way to calm the man’s nerves. She then invited him down on stage, getting up from her chair to give him a hug and then a kiss on the cheek. Everyone in the room found this emotional, and by the time he was back to his own chair he was almost in tears and his friends gave him massive hugs, emotional on his behalf.
Then the time came, in a split second the empty aisles and doors were overflowing with people all rushing out into the foyer, pushing past, running to join the ever-growing queue. In the grand scheme of things I was sort of near the front, at least closer to the front than I was to the back. The queue double backed on itself and snaked round yet it must have been full of Slytherins (the sly and sneaky kind, not the cool ones I know) because en masse they turned round and merged with those in front of them, pushing us further back. It was a result of poor management and once the damage was done it could not be rectified. Yet those who queued with us were nice enough, easy to chat to and excitable as well. A couple of friends had only managed to get tickets on the day, buying ones that had been returned, they even managed to get seats in row E which was so close to the front.
Eventually the line moved, haltingly at first but then as its confidence grew it moved faster. It seemed like in no time at all, she was there sitting at a table signing books. Security were telling us to put our cameras away and staff members ensured we had the book on the right page.
There were three people in front of me.
Then oh my god she’s there. In front of me, looking at me, grasping my hand and speaking to me.
The day before I had written out a thank you card and included the names of friends I had made in different countries. It seemed appropriate because we all met because of her and when the question ‘if you got the chance what would you say to J.K. Rowling’ was asked we all said ‘thank you’. So I gave her the card and she said ‘oh how very kind’.
Then I plucked up the courage to say something that sounded stupid in my head.
‘You’re my absolute hero, is there any chance I could get a hug, please?
She met my eyes and grasped my hand in both of hers and shook it reassuringly.
‘I can’t. I’ve been banned from giving hugs because it’s holding everyone up, but thank you.’
I’m sure I said thank you as well before moving away. But you see, the thing is, when you meet your hero you don’t really realise it’s happening until it’s halfway through. And when you do your brain is going oh my god. In my case it was when she looked into my eyes that I fully realised exactly what was happening. The woman I have idolised for two-thirds of my life was holding my hand and for just a few seconds knew that I existed. My brain was going ‘oh my god, J.K. Rowling is right in front of me, looking at me’ and that is the thing I remember with utmost clarity.
I moved away, still in a daze and turned round just in time to see my mum in conversation. At one point J.K. Rowling looked at me again, I smiled, and asked my mum what she had said when she came away.
‘Thank you for inspiring my daughter.’
‘What did Jo say?’
‘That is so good to hear.’
The thing is, she made it so personal, she sounded so sincere and when she said that to my mum she actually stopped to look at her and to say those words. It doesn’t matter that she’s probably said them a million times, those were our words, those were our moments.
After we left the signing area we entered a weird land. One half was a bunch of people stretching their arms as high as they would go to take photos of the author over the wall, the other half were all weeping.
I soon joined them.
It was a contentment, a pure happiness summoned by those few seconds spent with J.K. Rowling. It was her very own magic. The awe of being in her presence and being acknowledged and being the centre of her attention. It was overwhelming and soon overflowed in those joyous tears of utter ecstasy.
It was hard to leave, we kept going back to look at her signing those books, interacting with her other fans the way she interacted with us, never tiring, never wavering.
Eventually we left, and although I came away with a signed first edition of The Casual Vacancy the most valuable and precious thing I received was those few moments with J.K. Rowling.
So that was the day I met my hero.