Ahuja, Anjana. "HP's novel encounter," The Times (London), June 27, 2000

Bryony Evens was the first to discover J.K. Rowling's hero.

Bryony Evens pulls a Harry Potter book from her bag and hands it to me, beaming. On an inside page is an extravagant, diagonal scrawl in black ink: "To Bryony - who is the most important person I've ever met in a signing queue & the first person ever to see merit in Harry Potter. With huge thanks. J.K.Rowling."

The "huge" has been underlined four times, signifying the contribution that Evens has made to this particular phenomenon. For it is she who, while working at the Christopher Little Literary Agency as office manager, opened the post one morning in 1996 to find her attention drawn to a black folder. Harry Potter and his wizard chums were about to be unleashed on the outside world, and Evens was to be the first to fall under his spell.

It was obviously a children's book, which the agency did not usually handle, but this one intrigued Evens. "It had a covering letter, a synopsis and three sample chapters, which is exactly what we ask people to send in," she says. "I read the first page and I thought it sounded really good, so I put it aside to read later. I showed it to the reader who was in that day and she really liked it too."

After checking with her boss, she asked for the rest of the manuscript to be sent in. "When it came, I just couldn't put it down," says Evens. "I had already decided that, even if we had rejected it, I was going to read the rest of it for my own curiosity. I remember making a mental list of what was great about it - it had the school story, it had the orphan living with evil step-family story, it had witches, wizards and magic, which is always fantastic, and it was a really good detective story with a twist at the end. Andthere was nothing that had made me laugh as much on first reading since Diana Wynne Jones's Charmed Life in the Seventies.

"Chris (Little) read it overnight and we made a list of the things we thought weren't quite strong enough, and then we wrote to her. I thought there should be more of Neville (one of Harry's friends) because he was a lovely character, and Chris wanted to know more about Quidditch (a ball game). Joanne had actually taken the rules of Quidditch out because she thought it made it too technical. But there was hardly anything else."

Rowling wrote back: "That's brilliant because I like Neville, and, oh great, I can put the rules of Quidditch back in."

The revised manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was copied and sent to several publishers, including Penguin, TransWorld, HarperCollins and Bloomsbury. Bloomsbury accepted it - the rest is history.

Evens, 30, is disarmingly modest about her role in discovering Harry Potter. So modest that nobody apart from her family and friends knew that she was the first person in the publishing world to get to know Harry Potter (she left the agency shortly afterwards).

She seems slightly embarrassed that word has leaked out years later, and horrified that she might be styled as the woman who discovered Joanne Rowling. "Mike snitched on me," she says good-naturedly, referring to the publisher Michael O'Mara, to whom she became PA last year, and who spilled the beans about his employee to an executive with The Times. "I'd hate to be seen as cashing in. "

Evens said that the Harry Potter product was so good that someone would have spotted it. "It's just that it came to us first. It seems so obvious now, and it seemed obvious to me at the time, that it was a really good book. I thought it might be big but it didn't occur to me that it would be this big."

Evens is now one of Harry's biggest fans and she will be at London's King's Cross railway station on July 8, the launch date for the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Doomspell Tournament, to wave off the Hogwarts Express.

She is not dismayed that she has never been credited for her contribution. "If I had stayed there I dare say I would have been rich and famous," says Evens with a laugh. "I suppose I would have been involved in it a lot more. But I wanted to move on. A lot of things were happening. I changed boyfriend, moved house."

Evens then worked for an estate agency for three years. Her only literary indulgence during this period was when she rang Bloomsbury when the first Harry Potter book was released to ask for a copy. She wasn't invited to the launch.

She finally met Joanne Rowling in 1998 - in the signing queue at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. "My aunt got tickets and we had borrowed two children so we didn't look out of place," Evens recalls. "Then afterwards, during the signing, I told her who I was and she jumped up and gave me a hug in front of all these children.

"She knows exactly where she's going with it all. She's got press interviews down to a fine art. She's got the last page of the last book locked in a safe. She knows she's writing seven books and that's it."

Evens is organised, modest and not particularly ambitious. Contentment is simply having a book in her bag. An English literature graduate, she admits to being obsessed with words and spellings. Apart from typing letters, she proof-reads manuscripts. "Just down Clapham High Street, we have Shoes For All Occassions and a Fully License cafe," she says, shuddering. She even berates shopkeepers for such signs.

"Those sorts of things really annoy me. That's why I came back into publishing. It's my chance to do my bit for the English language." She has also been gathering novelty books such as The World's Stupidest Signs.

Evens does not expect further contact with Harry Potter's creator. She just seems grateful and quietly proud to have been involved at the beginning. It is the words and the books and the stories that are her first love, which is why she swapped lettings boards for slush piles once again. Evens especially loves children's books - her favourite authors include Tolkien and Dahl - but she has no desire to commission or write books: "I'm much happier working with other people's words and I certainly don't want to be the next J.K.Rowling."

Copyright 2000 Times Newspapers Limited

Original page date 2 March 2007; last updated 2 March 2007.