When did you first hear about Harry Potter, Claire?
I remember my mum bringing home the first two books when I was about eight, saying a friend had recommended them. I took one look at them and said, ‘I’m not going to read a book about a stupid wizard.’ And then I ate my words about six months later when some friends at school said I should give them a go.
When did your enjoyment of the books start passing into serious fandom?
It was just before I started secondary school when I reread the first one and then I read it again the second I had finished – I think that was the moment I went from ‘these books are fun’ to moderately obsessed.
What kind of Harry Potter events did you queue up for as a youngster?
Oh, all sorts. I won a radio competition to go to a film preview of the second movie… I went to the Half-Blood Prince midnight release… I went to pick up Order Of The Phoenix at about eight in the morning, the moment the shop opened. And yes, I was wearing a Hogwarts uniform.
What is it about Harry Potter that is so appealing to so many people?
For someone my age I think it’s the fact that you grow up with it. And the gap between each book was a big part of it, too – you read the first few all together and then there’s such a long wait between the last ones that it grows on you more and more. That said, there are new, younger readers coming into it now, reading the books in one go, and still having a similar level of adoration for it.
Is there a specific character that you identify with?
Different characters at different times. I think when I first started reading the books, just like any know-it-all kid I went, ‘Hermione, yep, that’s me’ – plus I also used to have really bad frizzy hair, so I connected on that level. Then I think by the time I was 13 and feeling a bit odd and out of place like everyone does at that age it was Luna Lovegood. When I read the books back now I most adore Harry.
Were your classmates ever unkind about your obsession?
I think every school had the token Harry Potter fan and I think I was that kid, but the mickey-taking wasn’t too bad. I do remember on the last day of school, though, that when everyone was putting bunches in their hair and having freckles drawn on their faces, when they did me they drew on a pair of spectacles and a scar.
What’s the best thing about being a Harry Potter superfan?
When the last film came out there was a very small period of time where I thought, ‘Maybe this is it? Maybe this is the point where I stop going back to these stories,’ but then about six months later I needed some coding experience because I was applying for jobs and saw there was an internship at MuggleNet, the biggest Harry Potter fan site, which has been going since 1999. They took me on and my love of all things Potter has kind of grown a bit out of hand since then. The best thing is the friends I’ve made – in the US, other friends here in the UK, friends in Australia and New Zealand. We don’t see each other very often but when we do it’s very nerdy, and great fun.
How big is MuggleNet?
It was started by a 12-year-old boy in his bedroom; he now owns a multimillion-pound website business. I’d say the real peak of MuggleNet was when the final films were coming out because it was pre-Buzzfeed and fansites had that sway. But our social media is still huge. Without any money behind it we can reach more than two million people on Facebook. The fan community is definitely still there.
How much work do you do there?
I’m the senior UK marketing manager, which is very much a spare-time thing for me, and my involvement depends on what’s happening. Recently I took a day off from my day job – I work in social media – because I had press tickets to go and see the new theatrical production Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. I also do some Harry Potter podcasts, and I’d say that most nights I’ll do something for the site.
You were one of the first people to see the stage play – was it all you hoped it’d be?
Plot-wise it didn’t work for me. There were some great things in it that were fantastic but there were some things I didn’t like: for example, the message of the book series didn’t seem to match up with what I was seeing on the stage. The performances were exceptional, though, especially the older Harry, Ron and Hermione.
Have you ever met anyone who seemed scarily obsessed, almost like they genuinely believed they were Hagrid or Voldemort?
No, but there are some interesting people who call themselves The Snapewives and they are a group of women who believe Professor Snape is real in a different universe and they dedicate their life to him. They’re an interesting bunch!
If you were to win a fortune tonight, how much would you bid for a private audience with JK Rowling?
I’d really struggle, because I wouldn’t know what to ask her! I’d have so many questions but at the same time, I almost wouldn’t want to know.
I have also been fortunate enough to meet a fair few of the actors from the films, and I think the highlight was Alan Rickman, who played Snape. I guess if I wanted to meet one of the cast now it would be Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), because the 11-year-old me had a massive obsession with him. But if I could talk to anyone to do with Harry Potter it would be David Heyman, who produced the films. I’ve met him twice, very briefly, and to spend more time with him talking about his career would be incredible.
JK Rowling has said that’s it for Harry Potter now – do you think she’ll stick to her guns?
We’ll see. Part of me hopes she will and I think she probably will, because ultimately Warner Bros can milk the brand without needing any new content for years. If (forthcoming Harry Potter spin-off movie) Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them does well they could take almost anything from the original books and expand on it. So I think JK Rowling might leave Harry Potter alone, but I don’t think she’ll be leaving the wizarding world any time soon.
Finally, does the idea of one day reading the books to your kids and then grandkids fill you with joy?
Oh absolutely. I can’t wait – I used to babysit when I was a teenager and I would force-feed the kids Harry Potter. One of my schoolfriends is due to give birth later this year and the thought of buying some Harry Potter when the baby grows – and I’m not even the kind of person who gets excited about buying baby clothes – is really exciting.