As the towers fell, the editor said 'get your Harry Potter costume on now'

While the world reeled at the scale of the tragedy, former 'News of the World' reporter Charles Begley was ordered to dress up as J K Rowling's hero to amuse Rebekah Wade

Last 11 September was a day which truly did change the world. A day we can all vividly recall exactly what we were doing and where we were.

But for some people events in New York were not overly important in terms of news value. The editor of the News of the World, Rebekah Wade, had her mind on apparently weightier matters.

While every other editor and journalist was polarised into reporting the cataclysmic events in the States, Ms Wade demanded one of her reporters dress up as none other than the children's character Harry Potter.

It was around 4.30pm, less than 90 minutes after the second tower of the World Trade Centre collapsed with the loss of what was thought at the time to be up to 50,000 lives. Fortunately, the initial estimates failed to materialise, although the enormity of the tragedy was not diminished.

The news editor approached my desk and told me sheepishly that Rebekah Wade wanted me in her office dressed in the garb of the fictional schoolboy wizard.

Tabloid reporters get used to having to entertain the madcap schemes of their over-excitable editors. But given the events unfolding around the world this struck me as perverse in the extreme.

The previous week I had the misfortune of being made the Harry Potter correspondent. This entailed the changing of my name by deed poll and prancing around like a transvestite with a schoolboy fetish. My transformation from "mild-mannered reporter" to prepubescent wizard was published across two pages of the News of the World on 9 September. It does not rank as the pinnacle of my career, but there are those of the opinion that if you work for a tabloid you get your just deserts.

I'd previously worked for The Sun and knew all about the stunts conjured up by the red-tops. It was The Sun which pioneered the idea with its Lenny Lottery antics. However, had a tragedy of 11 September proportions occurred in the midst of lottery mania I very much doubt the editor would have ordered his correspondent to prance around for a laugh.

Mirror editor Piers Morgan even underwent an overhaul of his news values in the wake of the tragedy and rebranded the paper to widespread acclaim. It was reward- ed with a raft of honours at the Press Gazette industry awards. Tellingly, the News of the World did not win a single gong and Rebekah Wade boycotted the ceremony and invented her own prizegiving.

Ms Wade had not been at Wapping HQ the previous Saturday when I posed as Harry Potter for a photo shoot. She was so impressed by the photographs she now wanted to see me dressed as the young wizard in the flesh.

Thoughts of leaving the News of the World there and then crossed my mind. But in this game it pays not to be too rash. Pet projects come and go, and editors easily become bored with their follies. Surely once she fully realised what was happening across the Atlantic she would relent.

At 5pm I approached Ms Wade's office, without broomstick or wand, to find her and and several other News International executives sat around seemingly awaiting my magical appearance as the schoolboy wizard. It was only when an aggrieved deputy editor Andy Coulson demanded to know where my outfit was that I realised this was no joke. I spluttered something out about leaving it in the photo studio. Coulson declared: "You should have your Harry Potter costume with you at all times. There could be a Harry Potter emergency."

Somehow the fact that the world's worst terrorist attack had taken place completely escaped him. Unabashed he ordered me to turn up at the following morning's news conference dressed as Harry Potter for the benefit of virtually every senior executive at the paper. He helpfully suggested my wife could help apply the make-up before leaving home. The previous week he'd proposed I have electrolysis to tame my eyebrows, and maybe control the growth of beard.

That was when it had been decided that I would carry out this "very important project". Foolishly I had thought I'd been summoned for a Jeffrey Archer-style investigation, which under the previous editor Phil Hall proved one of the newspaper's greatest scoops and landed the Tory peer in jail. But Ms Wade, who recently married the former EastEnders star Ross Kemp, had other ideas. She even envisaged her Harry Potter creation appearing onHave I Got News For You. I dread to think what Angus Deayton and Ian Hislop would have made of me...

To ask why I didn't simply refuse to go along with the stunt shows a failure to understand the machinations of News International. At the News of the World, and its sister titlesThe Sun, The Sunday Times and The Times, the editor is infallible to all but the chairman Les Hinton and owner Rupert Murdoch.

What Mr Murdoch makes of it all is anybody's guess. His connections to NYC date back to 1976 when he first bought the New York Post. A News Corp reporter died in one of the hijacked planes which crashed into the World Trade Centre.

I never did turn up at that meeting as Harry Potter. In fact, I went into the office just one more time. I secretly changed my name back to Charles Begley and an embarrassed News of the World initially offered to pay me to go quietly, but later reneged on the deal.

They were apparently upset that I'd dared to question the integrity of Ms Wade after she told a newspaper that she had "no idea" why I was so appalled at the Harry Potter stunt. Besides, she insisted, I had not paraded around dressed as Potter after the attacks – though failed to add that this was only because I'd declined to do so.

The National Union of Journalists launched a claim for me against the paper but it was struck out on a technicality before any evidence was even heard. The NUJ is currently considering further legal action. As for me, I've had a complete change of career. I now work as a journalist.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Full Stack Software Developer

£35k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game