TLC at the Royal Albert Hall, June 2003
Jul 29, 2007
TLC at the Royal Albert Hall, June 2003
Special thanks to Katie Felton for extra pictures
At this point, probably the corniest and most oversaid thing to say about a J.K. Rowling event is that it was magical. But how else can something be described when the imagination of one woman turns into a worldwide phenomenon culminating in a Web-cast, 4,000-fan manifestation of love for a fictional hero? Is it anything less than magical that a petite, working mom rekindled such a feverish love of literature that only the Royal Albert Hall (itself so magnificent it seems only Hogwarts’ Great Hall dare competes) can hold it?
I arrived at the venue early in the day, hours before the event was scheduled to begin. Already J.K. Rowlng’s mark was upon the place; instead of the traditional red carpet a “Quidditch green” stretched from the door to the street. Roping off the walkway were waist-high draperies on either side. One side housed the press and a crowd of onlookers while the other was marked by a string of House banners, all previously used as advertisements for the release of the book; they boasted House-specific phrases like Stand by, Slytherins!; Ready steady, Ravenclaws!; Hold tight, Hufflepuffs!, and Get set, Gryffindors! Behind these banners stood contest winners and kids in costume, wearing prized red bracelets and holding their books ready for signing. It was far less crowded on this side, and was full of the kind of fans who read this site. I had expected to be placed on the other side, among press, but to my delight, it was behind these banners I was “specially dispensated” to stand. Here I met the terrific Scholastic winners (from left to right: Angela Wyse, Nancy Chen, Brittany Hawkrigg, Thomas Pardee and Sudipta Bandyopadhyay), with whom I insisted on a picture. I also met the extremely sweet Katie Felton and 11-year-old Nick Cordingly, who got his book at midnight on the 21st and had plowed through it by 9am on Sunday.
Hogwarts students roamed the crowd; a Ravenclaw stopped by the line to find out what all the fuss was about. “Oh, that lady who writes about us is coming, is she?” she said. “Well, we hear she’s doing a good job, but she doesn’t give us much spotlight.” And she stuck her tongue out and marched sullenly off, while herds of schoolchildren loudly booed a couple of Slytherins (even though they were with a Hufflepuff) who had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. So tricky.
It was possibly the most beautiful day I’ve seen this year. While we were waiting for the lady to arrive, we amused ourselves watching a bunch of football players on stilts, who decided to show up and toss a ball around for our amusement. Unfortunately, when I agreed to participate and bat the inflatable ball back at them, one of the players kicked the ball directly into my face. I somehow avoided a broken or bloody nose, though it was a close thing. Bludgers have nothing on that ball (at least, it felt that way). Hopefully the press was only pretending to point their cameras my way at that moment, and I won’t appear on a bloopers reel six years from now. I think all the red lights I saw were behind my eyelids as opposed to on their equipment. I hope.
Lizo Mzimba and his Newsround crew were there of course, with a kid reporter, who was doing a much better job than I was at keeping his wits about him. I kept grabbing people’s arms, bobbing on the balls of my feet and checking my watch.
Around 3:20, the press rocketed to the far side of their corridor as if one unit, and stayed there as if glued together. It seemed JKR had arrived. There were many-voiced shouts of “J.K! This way!” and lots of scrambling as photographers tried to step on each other’s heads to get a better picture. It was actually pretty funny to watch from across the way.
When she finally sneaked into view, she was signing autographs with vigor; she appeared to be throwing herself bodily into each one. The pictures that have been floating on the Web don’t do the lady justice; she looks the best I’ve ever seen her look. Thoroughly confident, simply and elegantly dressed. A cool mom, just doing her job. And, while performing a publicity act that is almost as much walking as it is talking, JKR chose to wear platformed stiletto heels – let no one say she does not know how to take risks.
She stopped briefly to talk to the press, and to this moment I do not know what she said to them, because the roar was in full pitch. The second she turned her back on the press they screamed for her to turn back, but she seemed not to care. She did her press bit, then hurried back over to the fans and the autographs.
Book after book after book, and all of a sudden we were face to face. I’m sorry to report it this way, but I do not remember much. Honestly. Lizo says he’s got it on video – I haven’t seen it yet, but we will post a video as soon as he sends it. It was very fast and very unexpected (even though the common thing would be to expect that she’d eventually get to me), and it went something like this:
I had been wondering what I’d say to JKR should she come near, but trying to plan that is a bit like trying to cram an elephant into a phone booth, so I gave up. She was looking questioningly at me because my hand was still covering my book, stopping her from picking it up; I just said, finally, “Hi, I’m Melissa and I work on a site called the Leaky Cauldro-”
Her eyes flew wide and her hands flew out, and I heard her say, almost growl, actually, “Oh, The Leaky Cauldron, I LOVE The Leaky Cauldron!” and before I knew what was happening she had grabbed me and we were hugging very tightly. So tightly I almost fell over the railing and she asked me to please not die. As is probably expected, I was rendered completely speechless. I don’t know what I managed to mumble as she took my book, signed “I love the Leaky Cauldron! – JK Rowling, X”, and handed it back to me. Lizo was taking our picture, so I managed to point that out, and she put an arm around me and said, “We like her,” (or something of the sort) as he snapped. We exchanged another smile, I got my voice back, and asked her for a favor for our readers – I asked her to say hello to you. So, here it is, JK Rowling to the Leaky Cauldron readers.
And with that, she finished up her autographs (I was near the door, i.e. the end of the line), and entered the Hall.
Now, you’ve all seen the Web cast or read the transcript, so you know what went on in there. The set filled the entire hall; a great moon hung from the center, on which video clips were played during the course of the event. A giant Order of the Phoenix was the stage’s centerpiece, its binding concealing a door through which J.K. entered. The stage was made to resemble a room at Hogwarts, complete with poofy sofa, moving portrait and homey fire. On our seats were nicely printed copies of the Hogwarts school song, of which we sang rousing renditions. When J.K. entered for the second half of the show, to read from the book, a great Ford Anglia descended from the sky and spent the rest of the show blinking unevenly behind J.K.’s back.
I have to say that the highlight of the event proper was hearing J.K. Rowling do Umbridge’s voice. Sickly-sweet, grating as claws on metal, absolute perfect Umbridge (as is expected, of course).
Ms. Rowling seemed a bit shocked at the reception she received, though it’s no wonder she was greeted like a Beatle. The roar shook the place, and kids all around (including the one in my seat) were grinning from ear to goofy ear. For me, the prevailing sentiment was, “Wow. That little blonde lady did all of this. My future children’s minds and imaginations are going to be blown open because of her. She has 4,000 kids screaming and chanting, acting like they rarely do over movie stars. Over books. Miraculous. And she’s right there, and I can’t quite believe I’m right here.”
I’ve only been enamored with these books for two years. I am by no means the first fan out there, or the last. I’m not the one who read them the most times, or showed love in the best way, or the one who proved most deserving to be there. Nope. I was just the luckiest. I hope I can transmit to you all the happy feeling that has been in place in my chest since that day, or the amount of appreciation I felt surge between JKR and myself – because you all deserve to have that, too. Maybe I’m just tired and it’s late, and I’m being extra corny with a supersized side of cheese, but I wish I could have physically shared it with all the readers of this site. I wish I could do more to pass on my appreciation to everyone who reads and enjoys this site in the spirit in which it is meant. Amazing, the Internet. Simply amazing, what it can do if you just love something, and show it. Dare I call it magic?
Yeah. I really do.