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Past Times

Katie Leung: How young Dundee star was thrust into spotlight by Harry Potter stardom

Dundonian Katie Leung was 18 when she starred in the 2005 blockbuster Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire after beating 5,000 hopefuls to the role of Cho Chang.
Graeme Strachan
Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Katie Leung got on well on and off set.
Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Katie Leung took the world by storm. Image: Shutterstock.

She is the Dundee actress who found fame as the girl who kissed The Boy Who Lived.

And Katie Leung’s biggest screen success is enjoying a second life thanks to Netflix.

The streaming giant has each movie in the blockbuster Harry Potter franchise available to watch – and fans are falling under JK Rowling’s spell all over again.

Leung had a nomadic upbringing after being born in Dundee on August 8 1987 to Peter Leung, a Hong Kong-born businessman and restaurateur, and Kar Wai Li, a banker.

Her dad’s occupation led to her growing up in a variety of Scottish cities including Ayr, Hamilton and Motherwell.

Katie Leung was cast for the 2005 movie as Cho Chang who was Harry Potter’s first love interest. Image: Supplied.

Leung was 18 when she starred in the 2005 blockbuster Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire after beating 5,000 hopefuls to the role of Cho Chang after her dad saw an advert on a Chinese cable TV station inviting girls to audition for the part.

She had no experience in acting at all.

JK Rowling insisted that the actress to play Cho had to be a complete unknown.

Leung was less convinced that it was her big chance.

In fact, when she saw the huge queues of wannabe Chang hopefuls, she begged her dad to let her go shopping instead  — but he gently insisted that she should give it a go.

He was right.

Casting bosses were spellbound.

What could we expect from Potter Part IV?

Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire was as much a story about growing pains and adolescent angst as it was a fantasy adventure about battling supernatural evil.

The message boards were full not of Lord Voldemort’s return or the death of a major character but that Harry and the new girl at Hogwarts school share a romantic moment.

Leung became known as “the girl who gets to kiss Harry Potter”.

Daniel Radcliffe and Katie Leung at the press launch for the 2005 movie in London. Image: Shutterstock.

It was one of the most talked about screen kisses since Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara locked lips in 1939’s Gone With The Wind.

Producer David Heyman said director David Yates cleared the set to create more intimacy for the scene and the crew crowded around a monitor to watch.

Did she feel the magic with Daniel Radcliffe?

“It had been talked about for such a long time and was giving me sleepless nights but on the day we were meant to do it Daniel got ill and it had to be postponed,” she said.

“When it came to doing it, it wasn’t such a big deal, we had a laugh beforehand and it was fine. It wasn’t 30 takes as Daniel claimed!

“I think my friends are quite envious.

“I’m sure everyone wants to know if he was a good kisser – he definitely was!”

Leung became famous after giving JK Rowling’s boy-wizard his first kiss and she told the Sunday Post in 2007 how life had changed since taking the role.

Katie Leung alongside her family on the red carpet after she became a household name. Image: Shutterstock.

“It takes a bit of getting used to,” she said.

“I didn’t know it was going to be so big.

“I was promoting the film in Japan last year and I was overtaken on the way in from the airport by a bus with my big face on the side of it!

“I don’t get recognised that much in Glasgow, which is a good thing I think.

“Sometimes people will come up and ask ‘Are you the girl from Harry Potter?’ but I get shy and will say ‘No, but I’m told that I look like her…a lot!’ ”

Leung appeared in the 2011 finale

She went on to star in four more films in the franchise including Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows which was the final story and adapted into two feature-length parts.

Harry was besotted with Cho but things did not work out for them.

But the way was paved for destiny, and for the boy wizard to eventually marry his true love, Ginny Weasley, while Cho found her happy ever after with a Muggle.

Leung decided when filming was over to go to drama school in Glasgow and have some life experiences in the real world before picking her career back up in 2012.

She told the Sunday Post in 2021: “I think my fear of signing up to drama school was that people would have expectations of me, because I’d been in a big blockbuster, so that made me not want to go and I really had to push through that and think about what I wanted and that it would serve me, as opposed to just worrying what people would think – which I spent a lot of time doing when I was filming Harry Potter.

“So it was important for me to say, ‘Life starts here’, and realising as well there were no expectations from my classmates – it was all in my head, it was all me, really. I remember the first couple of weeks, as we were trying to get to know each other and having discussions in class and talking about our roots, I would mention having done a film but would never talk about it specifically even though everyone knew. It was a huge elephant in the room, but I just didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t want it to define me.

Katie Leung in Harry Potter
Who could forget Katie Leung’s turn as Harry Potter’s love interest in the 2005 movie? Image: Supplied.

“It was hilarious – the more I didn’t talk about it, the more obvious it became, and I said, ‘Oh God, I wish I’d just said at the very beginning and it wouldn’t have become this huge deal’. But everyone was really lovely and supportive.

“It’s funny, my mates and I reminisce and we talk about first year and they laugh about how awkward it was and ask me why I didn’t just say, because they thought I was doing great, so again it was really all just me.”

Since then, she has appeared in acclaimed TV series such as The Nest, Roadkill and the Glasgow-set police drama, Annika, opposite Nicola Walker and Guilt’s Jamie Sives.

Leung has grown and found continued acting success since the credits rolled on the second Deathly Hallows movie but the wizarding world will forever be part of her life.

Katie Leung starring in Annika
Katie Leung remains a popular face on screen in her role as DC Blair Ferguson in Annika. Image: Supplied.

Tayside has another special link to the franchise.

That’s because the life of JK Rowling can be traced back to the romantic first meeting of two strangers on a train from London’s King’s Cross to Arbroath in early 1964.

Peter Rowling had decided to join the Navy, and Anne Volant was already in the Women’s Royal Naval Service.

They were both 18 and had been stationed at the Condor Barracks on the outskirts of Arbroath, which in the 1960s became the home of the Royal Navy.

Harry Potter and Arbroath forever linked

Peter had gallantly offered to lend Anne his coat when she complained about how cold it was on the train, and they started chatting.

It was love at first sight and before the long train journey came to an end they were exchanging kisses beneath duffel coats.

By the time they reached Arbroath they were a confirmed couple.

The pair abandoned their naval careers and married on March 14 1965.

Rowling was born on July 31 that year when the couple had moved to the Bristol area.

Harry Potter may never have come into existence without that train journey.

JK Rowling on a train.
King’s Cross Station has always held a very special place in author JK Rowling’s heart. Image: Shutterstock.

Speaking to the BBC in 2001 she said: “I was going by train from Manchester to London, sitting there thinking of nothing to do with writing, and the idea came out of nowhere.

“I could see Harry very clearly: this scrawny little boy, and it was the most physical rush of excitement – I’d never felt that excited about anything to do with writing.

“For me, King’s Cross is a very, very romantic place; probably the most romantic station, purely because my parents met here, so that’s always been part of my childhood folklore.

“My dad had just joined the navy, my mom had just joined the R.E.N.’s, they were both travelling up to Arbroath in Scotland – from London – and they met on the train pulling out of King’s Cross.

“So I wanted Harry to go to Hogwarts by train; I just love trains, I’m a bit nerdy like that.

“And obviously therefore it had to be King’s Cross.”

Magical stuff.