Once upon a time, Joanne Rowling was a single mother living on benefits from the U.K. government. During a speech at Harvard in 2008, the woman the world now knows as J.K. Rowling explained that she once was “as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.” But after authoring the phenomenally popular Harry Potter series, Rowling became rich beyond her wildest dreams. Here’s a look at what she does with the money she worked so hard for.
20. Research into multiple sclerosis
Rowling’s mother, Anne, died of MS before Harry Potter was published. And so later she channelled her grief into charity. In 2010, after a previous large donation to the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the author donated £10 million towards a new research clinic in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was named the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic, and it marked the largest single donation Rowling had ever made.
19. Her charitable foundation Lumos
Lumos – named after the magical charm used to produce light in Harry Potter – is a foundation Rowling set up to tackle the problem of child institutionalization. She was inspired to do so after reading an article about children being kept in caged beds, and realizing she was in a position to do something about it. Now, Lumos has reportedly helped over 17,000 children.
18. Modest vehicles
With a commercial empire born to run, it’s safe to say that Rowling needs to get around. However, the writer reportedly steers clear of high-priced cars, preferring instead to keep her head down in more humble vehicles. Of course, she is still reported to own several of these simple cars.
17. A pair of amazing treehouses
Unsurprisingly, details of Rowling’s family are kept private. However, one detail did once leak out about the sort of presents Rowling gives to her kids. In 2012 it was reported that the writer had arranged for two multi-storied treehouses to be built – one each for her two youngest children. Now that’s one truly magical childhood experience.
16. Security and protection
Back in 2004 British newspaper The Express claimed that Rowling had been targeted by so many stalkers that she was forced to hire bodyguards. And there have indeed been cases where people were arrested for harassing her. Allegedly she spends thousands on home security, though one could hardly blame her.
15. Expensive jewelry
Jewelry features pretty extensively in Rowling’s Harry Potter books, and she’s quite the fan of it herself. In 2013 she even wrote a piece for Harper’s Bazaar about the influence jewelry held over her. And the author seems to be especially fond of designer Elizabeth Gage, whose pieces do not come cheap.
14. Political donations
Rowling spent a lot of her adult life in Scotland, so she had some strong opinions when Scotland held an independence referendum in 2014. She believed that Scotland should remain part of Britain. She wrote a blog post about it, and also donated £1 million to the anti-independence campaign, Better Together.
13. Public relations staff
Rowling is a very private woman. Though she’s on Twitter a lot, it’s difficult to get hold of her in person or by letter. Her official website notes that “J.K. Rowling’s media relations are handled by Mark Hutchinson Management and StonehillSalt PR,” so any fan mail sent to her will be dealt with by them, not her.
12. Trips around the world
Rowling’s fictional characters travel all over the place. In fact, the current plans for the Fantastic Beasts movies are to set each different film in a different city. So it’s not surprising that their writer has an interest in journeying to different locales. Rowling has visited the Galápagos Islands and the Seychelles for expensive holidays, and countless other places for work.
11. Designer dresses
Whenever she’s photographed in public, Rowling is always impeccably dressed. At the premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, she wore a green gown dotted with rose designs from Oscar de la Renta. That dress would have set her back thousands, and it’s far from the only expensive garment she has worn.
10. An accountant
Rowling has so much money that she hired someone to do manage it for her. “I actually chose my accountant because he said to me, ‘You have to make a fundamental decision. You have to choose whether you organize your money around your life or your life around your money,’” she told The Guardian in 2012.
9. Maintaining Pottermore
After the original Harry Potter books came the website Pottermore, a digital experience aimed at fans of the wizarding world, launched in 2011. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the site though. In March 2018 it was reported that many staff had been made redundant, leading to speculation about its future.
8. Several expensive houses
Why have just one house when you can afford lots of them? As soon as she made it, Rowling purchased two million-dollar houses – a beautiful 17th century building in Edinburgh, and its neighbor, so she could have it knocked down for a bigger back yard. Reportedly she also owns homes in Perthshire and Kensington.
7. High-heeled shoes
Rowling is a self-admitted nut for high-heeled shoes. Appearing on Radio 4 in 2014 she talked about “the power and myth of the shoe.” So of course, she owns some incredibly impressive ones – including a pair with a Golden Snitch design! She wore the Potter-inspired creations to the press preview of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in 2016.
6. A yacht
Wouldn’t most people buy a yacht if they could? Rowling is no exception. In 2016 she bought a luxury boat called Amphitrite which measured up to 47 meters in length. It once belonged to Johnny Depp, who now appears in Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts series. But perhaps she didn’t like it, because she put it up for sale less than a year later.
5. Building Hagrid’s Hut
Rowling loves the iconic buildings of Hogwarts just as much as we all do. The difference is that she has the power to recreate them in her own back yard! In 2014 it was reported that she was working on plans to build Hagrid’s Hut on her own property. No word if the friendly half-giant himself is included…
4. Gifts for fans
Rowling is incredibly generous to the people who helped put her where she is. The author has given away gifts worth thousands of dollars to fans. She’s donated Potter books to libraries, sent care packages to bereaved children, and will happily donate items to entire school classes.
3. Other people’s books
It’s hard to be a good writer without other books to inspire you, and Rowling still shops around for them. In July 2018 she tweeted about something she’d encountered in a secondhand bookstore – a sign reading “Books you need to buy so you can say ‘I should read that next’ before re-reading Harry Potter.” Awkward!
2. A memorial for a murdered fan
The world was appalled by a mass shooting at the Pulse LGBT nightclub in 2016. Fifty people were killed, and one of them was Luis Vielma, who worked at the Harry Potter ride at Universal Orlando. Rowling was shocked and horrified to lose a fan in such a senseless manner, and sent a wreath and a note to his family.
1. More charitable donations
Perhaps because she started off in poverty herself, Rowling is incredibly willing to give to charity. She’s president of the charity Gingerbread, which helps out one-parent families. She donated the royalties of her book The Cuckoo’s Calling to The Soldier’s Charity. And in 2012 Forbes claimed that she’d given 16 percent of her fortune to charity.