Jun 22 2003
By Mike Hamilton
J.K. Rowling's father has spoken for the first time of how she rose from the depths of despair after the death of her mother and a violent first marriage.
In a remarkable exclusive interview, as millions around the world scrambled to get the fifth Harry Potter book Order of the Phoenix yesterday, Peter Rowling also revealed how false claims that he had an affair while J.K.'s mother Anne battled multiple sclerosis placed a huge strain on his relationship with his daughter.
He spoke movingly about how J.K. was forced to flee from her violent
And he told how although the daughter he knows as Joanne Kathleen is now the world's most successful author, she is still haunted by her traumatic past.
The lowest point came when Anne died in 1990, aged just 45. She had always read to Joanne and younger sister Dianne, and her love of books helped inspire her elder daughter when she created the boy wizard now loved by millions all over the world.
Anne eventually became wheelchair-bound as her wasting disease worsened. Peter, 58, said: "Although the MS was very virulent in the later years, her death came suddenly. It was devastating. Myself, Joanne and Di were absolutely heartbroken."
Joanne travelled to Portugal as she struggled to overcome her grief and met handsome journalist Jorge Arantes in a bar. They bonded over a shared love of literature, married in 1992 and had a daughter Jessica, now nine, in August 1993.
But the marriage turned into a violent nightmare for Joanne.
Retired engineer Peter said: "She has told me he used to knock her about and because of that I hate him.
"Any man who hits a woman is a coward and I could only wish all the evil in the world on that man. I cannot imagine anything worse than the torture of having a young child and a violent husband."
The marriage lasted only 13 months, ending in November 1993 when Joanne left their Oporto home after a blazing row. She fled with baby Jessica to Edinburgh to stay with sister Dianne.
"That marriage was a low point and an awful time for her," said Peter. "But it may have spurred her on and I am so proud of the way she has recovered.
"I do know Jorge was violent to Joanne and that's why she was best off out of it.
"I used to ring her a lot when she was in Portugal with him. I knew there was something wrong because she could never speak properly as there was someone else in the room.
"When I went over to Portugal Jess had just been born and everything was fine but I knew it wasn't always like that."
After fleeing her marriage, Joanne struggled on £69 per week state benefits as she wrote her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, in an Edinburgh cafe. She struggled to find a publisher - but once in print the book and its sequels became a worldwide sensation.
Joanne, 37, is now happily remarried to Dr Neil Murray, 34. They have
a three-month-old son David and share a £1million mansion overlooking
the Tay in Perthshire, an Edinburgh villa and a £4.5million townhouse
in London's Kensington.
Joanne has said she is happier than ever, but admits she feels some guilt at her huge fortune. After selling 140million books worldwide she is said to be richer than The Queen with £280million stashed away .
Joanne shared a happy childhood with parents Peter and Anne in a cottage at Tutshill, Gloucestershire.
Peter said: "From the age of three Joanne could read a newspaper article or a book.
She was always writing plays and stories for her friends and sister to read and perform.
"Joanne loved Noddy, the Wind in the Willows and Thomas the Tank Engine.
"These were the sort of books that were read to her over and over again. Looking back I suppose that set her on her way."
His elder daughter was a quiet girl, but grew in confidence when she
started at Wyedean Comprehensive School in Gloucestershire, where she became
Peter said: "Joanne was a bit of a livewire. She had a lot of mates and was very close to her sister.
"Anne and I also opened up a youth club and Joanne and Di loved it and would always come along with their friends."
Joanne was very close to her mother, who worked as a lab assistant at the school.
She was just 12 when Anne first developed her illness - the first inkling came when she noticed her mother was unable to pick up a teapot. As Anne's condition got worse, Joanne went on to study for a degree in languages at Exeter University. She was working for Amnesty International in Manchester when her mother died. Peter said: "We thought that when Anne went into a wheelchair that was where the illness would end. We had not read about people dying from MS and her death came as a massive shock.
"Jo was working in Manchester and Di was in London. They both came straight home to Tutshill.
"Daughters always have a particularly close bond with their mothers and that was the case with my two. Anne was always there for the girls as they grew up while I was away at work a lot.
"When she fell ill it was very difficult for all of us, especially Jo and Di, who were growing up. As the girls got older they took up careers and moved away but their mother was always in their minds."
Peter said: "Anne was a wonderful woman - quiet but with a very strong mind. She encouraged Jo to read."
Joanne wrote the first book in the Harry Potter series seven years after her mother died. The dedication reads: "For Jessica, who loves stories, for Anne, who loved them too, and for Di, who heard this one first."
Joanne has said she realised that in writing Harry Potter she had given the hero "lots of feelings about my own mother's death". It was not until her fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, that she devoted one of her works to her father. It was suggested that she was furious with Peter over his marriage to second wife Janet, 50, after her mother's death.
A rift is said to have developed because Peter met Janet, his former secretary at the Rolls-Royce factory in Bristol, while Anne was ill with MS.
But Peter said: "It is all lies. It has been suggested I was drawn to Janet while Anne was fighting her illness. Well, that is a bloody insult. I was not drawn to anybody while Anne was alive and for some time after her death. I have worried in the past that, if Joanne keeps reading it, she will believe it. People say there is no smoke without fire. But I have spoken to Joanne and told her it's not true and she accepts that."
Peter said his relationship with Janet did not start until December 1991 - more than a year after Anne's death.
The couple married in a low-key affair at Newport Register Office in 1993. Neither Joanne nor Dianne - now 35 and a solicitor in Edinburgh - attended. But Peter insists his daughters' relationship with his wife is fine.
"Joanne and Janet get on like a house on fire. Whenever I go to Scotland to visit Jo, Neil and the kids, Janet is with me. I get on with Neil well. He's a great bloke."
Despite his daughter's massive wealth, Peter and Janet are content to live in a small two-bedroom apartment in Swanage, Dorset.
He laughed off a recent story suggesting he was struggling to make a living working in a burger van. The van is, in fact, run by his brother-in-law David Evans. Peter and Janet helped him to set it up and do the books.
Peter said: "People want to portray the image that I am struggling and make a comparison with Joanne.
"I am not a rich man, but I am certainly not a pauper. Jo is not mean and has offered me things but I have said no. As far as I am concerned, I am her dad and it is up to me to provide for her, not the other way around.
"She has given me and Janet fantastic holidays and gifts, and looks after her sister and her close friends. But I have never asked her for money and never would do. Joanne is a rich woman - and good luck to her.
"I am glad she has done so well, but it's a tremendous burden as well because she gets hassled all the time. I don't like it and any parent would occasionally be upset and protective if they were in my position."
He adds: "I find it odd people can think that we don't get on. Isn't it funny she dedicated a book to me if that is the case?
"What no one knows is that I took Joanne and Di to Portugal in June 1991, six months after Anne passed away as we tried to come to terms with it. If there was some sort of rift at that time, we would hardly have gone on a family holiday. We have discussed all these stories saying we don't get on and it has actually made us closer.
"I would like to see more of her and the family, but Joanne is public property. For that reason I do not want her to come and see us here. People always seem to know her movements when she is travelling."
When Joanne married Neil - they met through friends - in December 2001 - the ceremony was held in secret at her Scottish mansion. The 14 guests included her father and stepmother. "When she told me she was getting married again I wept," said Peter. "I was so happy because Joanne had got a lot of love to give and has had a rough time of it. It was great news, and a fantastic event.
"Joanne paid £10,000 for myself and Janet to travel up in a Cessna executive jet and we had Mercedes limos pick us up from the airport. I was bursting with pride.
"Janet and I did not go to her first wedding because it was sprung on us and we didn't have valid passports to travel to Portugal.
"But we wouldn't have missed the Scotland wedding for the world."
As J.K.'s 255,000-word book was released at a minute past midnight last night Peter was drinking a toast to the daughter he saw grow from a talented child to a global publishing sensation.
He said: "Pride is too small a word for what I feel about what she has achieved.
"What she has done is amazing, and it is all down to her. They say brains jump a generation and that is what has happened with Joanne - I can't even spell.
"She has given the world a great gift with Harry and touched a chord with the world's children - and a lot of its adults too.
"I have read all the Harry books and I think they are great. Writing is in Joanne's blood, and if she had not have come up with Harry, she would have written something else.
"However, Harry has rocketed her to global fame, and I have read she is more famous than Shakespeare - which is mind-boggling."
He adds: "Harry Potter has given a lot of pleasure and Joanne has given the world a great gift. The fame and fortune do not sit easily on her shoulders and she is a private person. She will be glad when the seventh and final book is finished - and so will I.
"When I see the worldwide rush for the books and Joanne featured on TV and in newspapers it is still a bit odd after all these years.
"To me, she is not J.K. Rowling the author, but Joanne the daughter
I am really proud of."