Julie Tucker
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From secretary to billionaire author… JK Rowling’s life before Harry

Billionaire author JK Rowling has lived a true rags-to-riches story. The writer of the famous Harry Potter stories about a young wizard and his friends always wanted to be an author, but had little success until she was in her 30s.

Today, Potter and his pals Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger are the main characters in one of the world’s biggest book and movie franchises in history. They have made Rowling the seventh richest entrepreneur in the UK, with an estimated net worth of $1 billion.

She has won many literary awards, was made an OBE in 2000 for services to children’s literature, won a BAFTA in 2011 for her Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema and was awarded the Freedom of the City of London in 2012. She was appointed a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in the queen’s 2017 Birthday Honours.

Rowling is the first author in history to have her net worth valued at $1 billion, yet prior to her first Harry Potter book being published, she lived a very ordinary lifestyle, much of which was spent in relative poverty.

Early life
Born in Gloucestershire in July 1965, Joanne Rowling enjoyed writing even at primary school and recalled writing a story when she was only six about a rabbit called Rabbit, who caught measles. Her mother said it was a good story and the young Joanne suggested trying to get it published, although this didn’t happen.

She continued to write stories while a pupil at St Michael’s Primary School. At the age of 11, she wrote a novel about the various people who owned seven cursed diamonds. Attending Wyedean Comprehensive School and then the University of Exeter, where she studied French and Classics, Rowling wrote only as a hobby in her spare time.

Her beloved mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and Rowling recalled some very unhappy years during her mum’s illness.

First job
After graduating from university, Rowling had several jobs, including working as a bilingual secretary and researcher at Amnesty International’s London offices. She then moved to Manchester, where she worked for the Chamber of Commerce. She still enjoyed writing, but it was more of a hobby than a career at that time.

In 1990, travelling by train from Manchester to London, Rowling began to form the idea for her Harry Potter books while the train was delayed. She had plenty of ideas and would jot them down on scraps of paper whenever they came to her.

However, it was to be a further seven years before her first book was finally published. In the interim, devastated by her mother’s death in December 1990, she moved to Portugal after seeing a newspaper advert for an English teacher.

She spent 18 months teaching in Portugal and in her spare time began to plan out the whole Harry Potter story, which eventually comprised seven novels – all of which were made into blockbuster movies, produced by Warner Bros studios.

She married Portuguese television journalist Jorge Arantes in October 1992 and the couple had a daughter, Jessica, in July 1993, but the marriage quickly soured, and the couple separated in November the same year.

Rowling reportedly felt like a failure. She still hadn’t got over her mother’s death and ended up having to move back to the UK following the end of her marriage. With no job, a divorce and now living in relative poverty, she felt her life had hit an all-time low.

Settling in Edinburgh with her baby daughter late in 1993, she continued writing in her spare time, while studying on a teacher training course. However, on finishing her first Harry Potter novel, she sent the manuscript hopefully to several publishers. One of them, Bloomsbury, expressed an interest.

She described their letter as the “best letter she had ever received” when they agreed to publish Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997. This was a major turning point in her life and the start of Rowling’s rise to the top.

Just 23 years after writing her first novel, she is now a billionaire at the age of 53. She has never forgotten her humble roots and gives much of her money to charities, including those that support people with multiple sclerosis and people living in poverty. She now has three children and is married to her second husband, Neil Murray.

JK Rowling’s story is indeed a humbling one, that just goes to prove that with a lot of hard work and determination, we all have the power to make our dreams come true.

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