A reporter describes the rush for J K Rowling’s "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" as it fell to the masses in England.
It was 11:53pm outside Waterstones – the major UK booksellers – in the seaside resort of Southport.
Scores of avid Potter fans chatted wildly, trying to pass the seven minutes, and one second precisely until the shop would open its doors allowing them to become some of the first people to read the latest instalment in J K Rowling’s runaway success story of the adventures of the young magician, Harry Potter.
The 100-strong crowd held an orderly, civilised queue.
There was no pushing and no shouting: the only noise was of late-night drinkers wandering past, having been ejected from their local pub, who asked in drunken bemusement what all of these people were doing.
But many were too transfixed by the changing of the shop window signs from ‘Coming Soon’ to ‘Out Now!’
The queue was mainly made up of families, with children in their bedclothes.
To the onlooker, it seemed that such a union these days could only be realised by a promotion-packed book launch campaign.
Less than one minute to go, and the excitement was almost visible in the air.
Eleven-year-old Daniel Warhan and his grandmother were first in line.
“I arrived at 6pm, and Daniel and his mum joined me later. I hope I didn’t look like a hooker,” his grandmother laughed.
“Everyone was looking at me standing there by myself” she said, admitting she was not really a fan of the books.
Suddenly, the town clock chimed midnight, the doors were unlocked and a cheer rose from the crowd. They began to pour in, in small groups, but remaining civilised and considerate.
Shortly after, a broadly-grinning Daniel and his rather weary looking grandmother emerged. The long wait had obviously paid off for at least one person, even though he could have had it delivered the next morning had he ordered it over the Internet.
“It feels great to own it,” Daniel said, before explaining why he wasn’t interested in waiting to find it on the doormat the following morning.
“I’m going to read it all tonight!”
His grandmother groaned audibly.
“Hagrid is the one who dies,” Daniel told me breathlessly.
“But he could remain at Hogwarts as a ghost. I’ll have to read it now and find out!”
The crowd came and went with no obvious problems. “I expected this kind of crowd,” a security guard said.
“We only let groups of 40 people in at a time for safety reasons. Any more than that and it would be too crowded, and there were only five staff to deal with them.”
The guard added he was impressed by the crowd’s civilised manner.
Inside the shop, a whole wall unit was dedicated to previous editions of the Harry Potter series, with another unit dedicated solely to the latest in both adult and children’s editions stocked.
There was also a small supermarket of wizard-related merchandise, tieing in with both the Harry Potter books and the movies.
The store manager, Donna, said she had ordered a thousand copies for the opening night.
“I started my shift at 5pm and finish at 1am,” she said.
“The books were delivered earlier today under high security. That was fun. We had to sign a company contract on how to treat the book – we weren’t allowed to read it!”
So which sold better? The book for adults or the book for children?
“We’ve sold more of the kids’ edition, but we ordered equal amounts of each in,” Donna said.
“The only reason there are two different versions is if adults are reading it in public, they can feel embarrassed by the children’s cover. There’s no difference in content though.”