Off I went into town, to The Dorchester. I had my questions ready - I was interviewing Richard Curtis too, but I wasn't so worried about talking to him. He was just another writer like me. Interviewing Alan Rickman, on the other hand, made my heart skip a beat or two. I've always thought he was sexy as hell.
Anyhow, the moment came - my name was called out, and I walked into a bedroom with view of Hyde Park and sitting there, in front of a four-poster bed was Mr Rickman. He was enormous. A tall, vast man with fingers the size of thick sausages. I said something like hello, to which he replied. 'Oh, you're not American.' 'That voice! It was utterly syrupy and my knees did actually feel weak. I sat down. 'No, I'm not American,' I said, dropping the T in the word 'not' and immediately correcting myself. He laughed lightly and it broke the ice a little.
One by one I went through my questions. I was there to talk about his role in 'Love Actually' but I'd thrown in a few about him playing Snape in the Harry Potter films.
I told him that my daughter was terrified of Snape, and he seemed genuinely surprised and upset that he should be upsetting a little girl. 'No!' he said. 'She shouldn't be.' 'Well she is!' I said. 'She's really, really terrified of him,' And that was when we went off the traditional interview route - at that moment, I was a mum not a journalist, and he was just an ordinary bloke, not an RSC or Hollywood actor .' He leant back in his chair before he spoke. 'But Snape's a good guy,' he said. 'No he isn't!' I said, full of confidence, but Mr Rickman nodded slowly at me, his eyes wide. This was four years before the final Harry Potter novel was published, [SPOILER ALERT: DON'T READ ON IF YOU HAVEN'T READ YOUR WAY THROUGH ALL THE HARRY POTTER BOOKS] - no one yet knew that Snape really was alright. At this point he was just a vindictive Slytherine potions master who had it in for Harry. 'Really?' I said. 'Snape's a good guy?' 'Yes,' said Mr Rickman. 'He is. I promise you.'
We went back to the interview questions at that point and finished up. And when I left, I shook one or two of his sausage-sized fingers (I couldn't manage the whole hand) and asked if I could have his autograph for my daughter. I handed him the blurb about him from the press packet I'd been given so that he could sign it, and he asked my daughter's name. When I got out out of the interview back down to the press room, I took at look to see what he'd written: 'To Yolanda, love from Alan Rickman (Snape, the Good Guy!') X
What a sweetie. I don't suppose Bloomsbury would have thought him a sweetie if they'd known he'd given away one of the major plot lines of what must be their bestselling novels of all time. But Mr Rickman trusted that I'd keep shtum. I told Yolanda what had happened and told her she shouldn't tell anyone else. It was a secret, and we would find out in time if it was true, or if Mr Rickman had just been having us on. But it was true. Four years later, reading that final novel, Yolanda and I marvelled that we'd known all along that Snape was indeed a good guy. And so was Alan Rickman. RIP lovely man. It was honestly a pleasure to have met you.
Here is the article that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle - I think I did a good job, but I left out the all-important part, which today, I felt, finally ought to be published. And here is the autograph itself...
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