By Michael MacLeod
HARRY Potter author JK Rowling has said she can’t ever imagine leaving Edinburgh after being honoured by the city.
She picked up the ‘Edinburgh Award’ on Friday night for her “outstanding achievements and contribution to the city.”
With husband Dr Neil Murray in tow, she arrived at the 5-star Prestonfield House Hotel wearing an off-the-shoulder black evening dress and a sparkling silver clutch-bag.
Speaking outside the glitzy awards ceremony, she said that despite being born in Gloucestershire and raised all over England, Edinburgh is now “very much” her home.
She said: “It is my home, yes, very much so.
“I can’t imagine ever leaving actually.
I’m really thrilled to get this award, obviously it’s very meaningful because Edinburgh is my home city so it’s got a practical meaning.”
She has sold 400 million books, but admitted she had never dared to dream of reaching such dizzying heights as an author.
When asked if she ever thought she’d scoop prestegious awards, she laughed and said: “Of course not, when I was living in Leith, no.
“This was not the kind of event at which I ever imagined myself featuring at.”
The night was a double celebration for JK, as it fell on what would be her Potter character Hermione’s 19th birthday.
Since revealing she wrote most of the Potter books in the capital’s cafes, some have become tourist attractions in their own rights.
JK added: “Edinburgh is the place where Harry evolved over seven books and many, many hours of writing in its cafes.
“So much has happened to me both professionally and personally since I moved here nearly fifteen years ago, that to receive this recognition is particularly meaningful and special.”
In true Hollywood style, she will have her hands cast in concrete next Spring to further mark the occasion.
The Edinburgh Award was set up in 2007 to recognise an individual’s outstanding achievements and contribution to the city of Edinburgh.
JK Rowling was selected by a judging panel comprising the Lord Provost and representatives from organiser Edinburgh City Council, Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh and Lothian, Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations Council and the business community.
Ms Rowling is the second ever winner of the Edinburgh Award, following in the footsteps of her fellow city wordsmith Ian Rankin.
The internationally-renowned crime writer picked up the first Edinburgh Award in 2007 and, earlier this year, his handprints were immortalised in stone at the City Chambers.
From a large number of public nominations, representing a cross section of people from the fields of arts, business, science and hospitality, the Edinburgh Award judging panel unanimously voted Ms Rowling as this year’s winner.
Speaking on behalf of the judging panel, Lord Provost George Grubb said: “JK Rowling is undoubtedly one of the world’s best-loved writers and her books continue to thrill audiences young and old across the globe.
“Everyone knows the famous story of how she penned the first Harry Potter novel in various Edinburgh cafes and her literary achievements have really put the city on the map.
“She is a tremendous asset to the city, not least for her writing prowess but also for her philanthropy and the vast amount of support she gives to numerous charities.
“We are very proud that Ms Rowling has adopted Edinburgh as her home town, and I am delighted to honour her today by presenting her with The Edinburgh Award, 2008, in recognition of her inspiring achievements and her outstanding contribution to the cultural, social and economic prosperity of Edinburgh.”
As well as her writing, much of Ms Rowling’s time is taken up supporting various charities that are close to her heart within the city and beyond.
She is President of One Parent Families/Gingerbread and patron of both the Multiple Sclerosis Society Scotland and Maggie’s Centres for cancer sufferers.
Two years ago she set up a charity, the Children’s High Level Group, to promote children’s rights, particularly those of children in care in Eastern Europe.
Perhaps her most high-profile support goes to the Multiple Sclerosis Society Scotland, of which she is also patron, and hosts biennial charity balls, one of which was held at the Royal Museum in Chambers St.
Scotland has the highest prevalence of MS in the world, and claimed the life of her mother Anne, a Scot, in 1990.
Ms Rowling’s support for MSSS recently helped fund a new laboratory for MS research at the University.
Mark Hazlewood, Director of MS Society Scotland, said: “Jo’s support for people affected by multiple sclerosis has had a huge impact.
“She has enabled the MS Society Scotland to establish a world-leading research centre in Edinburgh which should lead to better treatments.
“She has added her voice to those of others raising awareness of MS and calling for Scotland to provide better support and services.
“People living with this devastating condition know that in Jo they have a strong ally; an ally who speaks with personal experience about how MS can impact on lives.
“She is every charity’s dream supporter!”
The judging of the Edinburgh Award was based on strict criteria, including whether the nominees’ work had made a positive impact on the city, gained international renown and contributed to an increase in tourism, education or overall awareness of Edinburgh.
As part of her award, Ms Rowling will be offered various opportunities throughout the year: for example, invitations to attend civic receptions, to accompany the Council at the annual Kirking at St Giles Cathedral and to take the salute with the Lord Provost at the Tattoo.