JK Rowling has described feeling like “a hostage” in her own home as it came “under siege” from the paparazzi following the success of her Harry Potter books.
The author told the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics that she had fought a running battle with the media to protect her privacy and particularly that of her three children, taking legal action more than 50 times in 14 years.
Despite her best efforts, she had been unable to prevent “private” pictures of her daughter going around the world “like a virus” on the internet.
After taking an oath under her full name of Joanne Kathleen Rowling, the 46-year-old writer said she was a passionate believer in the freedom of the press and saluted “truly heroic” journalists who risked their lives to expose the truth about war and famine.
She did not, however, mince her words when it came to the “illegal and unjustifiably intrusive” behaviour of some tabloid journalists, adding: “I wonder sometimes why they’re called the same thing.”
With her husband, Neil Murray, sitting in the public gallery of the hearing at the High Court in London, she said she had been guided by her strong belief that “children do best when they are kept out of the public eye“.
She quickly discovered how difficult it would be to ensure that when she experienced “the first burst of publicity” after the first book, published in 1997, became a bestseller.
Her eldest daughter came home from primary school and, she said: “I unzipped her bag and among the usual notes from school and debris, I found a letter from a journalist. “It said he intended to ask a mother at the school to put this in my daughter’s bag.
I don’t know whether that’s how it got there but I felt such a sense of invasion. It’s very difficult to say how angry I felt that my five-year-old daughter’s school was no longer a place of complete security from journalists.”
After buying a house with the advance for the first book, Miss Rowling was horrified to see pictures of it, including the street name and house number, appear in the press, and moved as a result, but had been forced to take legal action when pictures of three subsequent homes were published.
As a result, photographers would camp outside her house and “it really was like being under siege or being a hostage … I felt completely trapped in the house and of course that had a massive effect on the children”.
When the seventh and final Potter book was about to be published in 2007, a journalist contacted the head of her daughter’s school, and suggested that she had “distressed fellow pupils by revealing that Harry Potter dies in the final Harry Potter book”.
Miss Rowling went on: “My daughter was being characterised as some sort of bully, but there was not a word of truth in it. There had been no complaint.
“My daughter could not have possibly known what was in book seven, because by her own request she did not want to know. To approach my daughter’s school was outrageous.”
In 2004 the Daily Express alleged that Miss Rowling had based the character of the self-obsessed teacher Gilderoy Lockhart on her former husband, after she told a group of children that she had based him on “someone I lived with briefly”.
In fact, she was referring to a former flatmate, but she “had to sit my eldest daughter down and explain it”.
She was not, however, asked whether anyone in particular had inspired one of her most vile characters, the manipulative journalist Rita Skeeter, who appears to embody all that she loathes about the tabloid press.
The hearing continues on Monday.