Born to Run: How Grief Inspired the Quidditch Premier League

By Andy Marmer

This article probably shouldn’t have happened; I had enough on my plate and probably too many conflicts. My subject had much to lose and little to gain from an indepth profile. I expressed reservations. Unease about what I was doing. The time it would take to write the story I wanted to tell. The story I was getting wasn’t the story that was there. “Then say that,” I was told. “You know who I am, you know me, and you’re telling the story. Explain how that contradicts what I’m saying, press me on it; be the kind of c**t of an interviewer that I’d be.”

As is so often the case with Jack Lennard, he seemed to be torn somewhere between doing the right thing and his own ambition. He has the audacity to pitch an indepth feature on the league he created and the passion to care as much about ensuring the project gets done as he does about the way he is portrayed. He wants everyone in quidditch to know who he is, but doesn’t have a clue himself. He is deeply self-aware and concerned about his legacy and displays just the divisive sort of impulsiveness to be both revered and despised the world over.

Jack Lennard at the 2016 League of Extraordinary Ghentlemen tournament, in Belgium | Photo credit: Jelmer Lokman

I first met Jack in March 2015. I was co-CEO of the Quidditch Post. He was a second year archaeology student at the University of Oxford interviewing for the newly-created position of COO. I had wanted to interview him on Skype. His jaw was wired shut after facial surgery. At 3 a.m. his time, as he lay in bed in his parents West London flat, high on pain medication, we talked. Or more precisely, I talked and he typed. He has no real recollection of that conversation or many of the others we had in those early days, but he promised the Quidditch Post the world and for some reason I believed him. For some reason, no matter the absurdity of what he says and what he promises, people believe Jack Lennard. Jack Lennard is the person who at the age of 16 looks to drop out of his uber-prestigious day school in central London to join the army, who casually writes articles on Brexit read the world over, whose idea of a first date involves a train from London to Paris, and who starts a sex toy company because he’s unhappy with the state of the market. He’s also the person who got suspended from his own team for undermining the greater club, who nearly got himself banned from World Cup for his outspoken views on the IQA’s stance on rape allegations, threatened to attack the board of governors of his school in the media, and who wrote a letter to his boss, me, resigning and telling me of my ineptness and somehow, despite his repeated insubordination and conflict creation, ended up with my ear and effectively a promotion. Jack Lennard is the person who over a cheeseburger and Big Kona Wave beer in Soho decides that he is going to start a summer quidditch league throughout the UK and then goes out and creates the Quidditch Premier League.

Jack’s origin story is both typical and not. The son of a lawyer and record label owner, he grew up in a privileged life, attending a private school in central London from the age of eight and then moving on to the University of Oxford. His teenage years were fairly typical yet not marked by the academic pressures one might expect given his pedigree, yet also a rambunctiousness perhaps unexpected from someone in his shoes. Described as incredibly nerdy by his friends, Jack, in the words of one, fashioned himself quite the lothario in his youth. With almost a chronic need to impress those around him, unafraid of using half-truths to do so; he attempted to join the military at 16 only to be rejected because of metal-fused vertebrae due to a scoliosis operation; he challenged the board of governors of his school who vetoed using charity funds for mental health by threatening to go to the press; he broke into an old castle in Cornwall after hours to explore it. Beneath the braggadocious exterior though, young Jack was a smart kid developing a sense of social justice, struggling like most teens to fit in and prosper. In many ways he was looking for an outlet from the mundane.

From an early age, Jack looked for an outlet from the mundane, something he picked up quickly from his father | Photo Courtesy of Jack Lennard

In writing this piece Jack and I spoke often; he would message me asking for some update, some piece of information, an excerpt to read, the status of my interviews. Part of it was obviously that he found all of this talking, especially about himself and his passion, therapeutic but more on that later. He also knows that this article will in many ways impact his legacy, both his unveiling to a worldwide audience, and his league’s legacy and its unveiling.  A lot of this process reflected Jack’s own uncertainty about his impact. He describes himself as a normal teenager, yet when asked a question about himself as a youth, transitions from, “You had your friendship groups, your stupid school dramas, relationships, and so on,” to, “There’s absolutely nothing worse than being ordinary,” with just a single sentence in between.

An obsession with the extraordinary is the exact sort of bullshit you would expect of someone deeply insecure about their place in the world. “I think I started saying shit like that as a facade,” he admitted. Yet his elaboration further reveals the ever-present contradiction where a self-aware person talks about themself – balancing honesty with perception. “The more I’ve grown, the more I’ve felt comfortable in it as defining my passion. Now, that’s not to say I’m anything other than ordinary! Everyone, including me, likes to think they’re all that, but I’m really nothing special. But that doesn’t mean I can’t pour that hope, those aspirations, into what I do. So it started out almost tongue in cheek, but as I’ve become more confident, and developed more self-belief, it almost exists as a mission statement now.”

Jack exists in a perpetual state of internal conflict, full of both ambition and insecurity. The exact sort of trait that leads someone to hate the mundane so much that their personal mantra eschews it. The exact sort of combination that leads someone who hated their stodgy elite private school to wind up at Oxford. The exact sort of characteristics that leads someone to quidditch and to a leadership position in the community.

Jack and quidditch found each other at LeakyCon 2013 in London the summer before he departed for Oxford. He played for the school’s second team, the Oxford Quidlings, at the first British Quidditch Cup (BQC) and from then on became increasingly involved in quidditch first as the social media manager for Oxford University Quidditch Club (OUQC) that winter, then the press director of OUQC, and captain of the Quidlings in spring 2014. In the winter of 2014 he took on a position as Publicity Coordinator for European Quidditch Cup (EQC) 2015 and shortly thereafter a role as COO of the Quidditch Post. The exact sort of professional progression one might expect to see.

Jack became captain of the Oxford Quidlings in spring 2014, leading them to qualification and, subsequently, 20th in Europe at EQC 2015 | Photo credit: Amalia Bastos Photography

“Professionally, [QPL] feels like a culmination of a learning curve in quidditch, from low level social media volunteer, to team captain, to COO, to Director. It’s a way for me to show what I’ve learned in those roles, and channel them into something that will outlast me a real legacy,” he said.

However, that sort of professional progression would not have been possible without a great deal of personal growth. Jack is one of the most introspective people I’ve met. He spends a great deal of time thinking about the world, examining it through different lenses; in another world he could easily be imagined donning tweed and lecturing philosophy. Our conversation spanned the Justice League, to Hugh Everett III, in part organically and in part because that’s how he wanted to present himself. Yet his reflective nature and eagerness to espouse his eccentricities betrays the insecurity of someone who has spent far more time than normal thinking about their place in the world and looking for meaning.

The move to Oxford gave Jack more of an opportunity to embrace that side of his personality. Starting university whilst finding quidditch provided a chance to embrace a yet unfound side. “I always felt forced to be inhibited at school,” he explained. “I realised pretty quickly that quidditch, or maybe uni (they go hand in hand), would let you be a much wider spectrum of people than I’d felt comfortable being previously.”

The beginning of his time at Oxford was largely ordinary. He studied archaeology, played quidditch and volunteered some in the community, made friends, went to the pubs, developed romantic connections, and blogged about Lush though in which order he prioritized those no one can really say. Perhaps not your typical existence, but far from an abnormal university experience. Jack credits a trip to Global Games 2014 in Vancouver with his then-partner Amy Maidment, who was at the time President of QuidditchUK, with kickstarting his interest in quidditch volunteering.

His trip across the Atlantic with Amy Maidment, then President of QuidditchUK, shown here during that trip speaking alongside Logan Anbinder, then of USQ, at LeakyCon 2014, kickstarted his interest in volunteering in quidditch | Photo credit: Jack Lennard

For someone who struggled to fit in before, Jack seemed to find his place at Oxford. “I wasn’t keen on Oxford when I went to look around too stuffy, too much like where I was already at the time. But I found this one college (the University of Oxford comprises many different constituent colleges), Keble, that didn’t let parents in for the open day, only the kids,” he said. “And it was amazing, these students suddenly coming out of their shells and being more genuine, so I thought ‘fuck it’ and applied. Best decision I ever made. I loved studying there, it was a really great environment; very different to what I had imagined, hard work but done because you love it, not because you feel you have to do well for the sake of some long career game or competition. Now, I’m sure that’s not everyone’s experience! I wouldn’t want to speak for the entire university. But for me, it was a surprisingly refreshing breath of fresh air.”

Through quidditch at Oxford, Jack found an interest in public relations that led him to a job at the Oxford Union and a new passion. Yet his reasons for loving this route are perhaps untraditional, or perhaps just said in an untraditional way that either is Jack or is the Jack that he wants people to think he is; among other reasons, he cited his love for “using charisma” and “understanding how people think.” It doesn’t take much effort to read between the lines. The appeal of public relations, much like many things in Jack’s life to which he is drawn, is the appeal of power and control.

Jack in his role as Press Officer of the Oxford Union, pictured here with Joss Whedon in November 2015 | Photo credit: the Oxford Union

Throughout our years knowing each other, Jack and I have together ruminated on much in the quidditch community. He is a person who thinks in terms of soft and hard power, influence, control. Jack was disciplined by OUQC for his role in intra-club transfers and for the ensuing dishonesty. Somehow this feels right. Yet for any deceit Jack might engineer, he also displays a certain je ne sais quoi that makes people trust him, open up to him, and count on him. To put it less elegantly, Jack is the most charming little shit you’ll ever meet.

When I asked Jack what trait he valued most in a person, he acknowledged that many people would have expected the answer to be cunning, yet instead responded with passion. Although our entire series of interviews were glossed with the vernier of bullshit that comes with being interviewed for a biographical profile, this answer rang true. His hero: Bruce Springsteen. Reason: Passion and drive. Favorite Song: Blood Brothers – alternate lyrics.

Now on out here on this road

Out here on this road tonight

I close my eyes and feel so many friends around me

In the early evening light

And the miles we have come

And the battles won and lost

Are just so many roads travelled

So many rivers crossed

And I ask God for the strength

And faith in one another

’Cause it’s a good night for a ride

Cross this river to the other side

My blood brothers

Those who work with him see many of the traits he admires in the Boss in him as a boss. They too speak of passion, of drive, of the dedication he shows and the confidence he has in them and that they have in him. Those who have known him a while see a sort of evolution. He’s still a self-righteous, charismatic egoist, but a more mature one. Headstrong, but willing to assemble a capable team and listen to their advice. More accepting that he doesn’t know everything and can’t do everything on his own. More…carefree? ambitious? self-aware? restrained? None of these words feel quite right, but in October 2015 something changed Jack.

We’re now at the part of our story where we talk about the travails our protagonist has overcome. The struggles they’ve dealt with and the adversity they have had to overcome. And the ways those struggles have changed them. This sort of anecdote, in screen-writing terms called your second act, is incredibly clichéed, which doesn’t make it less true or less necessary.

I’ve consulted with just a handful of editors and confidantes in writing this story and few have seen drafts as I write this, and yet the sentiment seems to be that I’m too in love with my subject. I’ve done my best in this article, to write not the truth, but my truth. Indeed my friends and colleagues are right, there is a lot about Jack I admire and a lot about Jack I despise and writing this story has only amplified those feelings. In writing this story I’ve been reminded of a quote from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, a book and a series I read and loved as a child: “I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.”  

When Jack was 19, his sister Lucy passed away. This is a story I don’t want to tell I took a more than two week hiatus from my writing before getting to this part but it needs to be told to tell the story of Jack and the broader story of how the QPL got its start.

On Monday, October 26, 2015, Jack received a call from his father, just after lunch while sitting in an archaeology seminar, telling him that Lucy wasn’t well and he needed to get on the next flight to France. Upon exiting the airport he met his dad and “he just bursts into tears, and I knew what’d happened,” he recounted. “I remember saying goodbye They didn’t let us stay in the room when they turned it all off, which is probably sensible I think I might have tried to stab someone otherwise.”

Lucy celebrating her 13th birthday in 2013, with her father, John. She passed away in 2015. | Photo Courtesy of Jack Lennard

Of course this would hardly be the first time Jack caused pain to someone harming his sister as he confessed to having headbutted one of Lucy’s physios who had made her cry when she was younger.

Jack was protective of his sister, perhaps over-protective, in a way that extends beyond what normal older brothers do. Lucy suffered from hydrocephalus water on the brain. Expected not to be able to walk, talk, see or hear, she could do all of those things. A shunt a tube that pumps fluid out of the brain enabled her to lead the life she did, but occasional blockages would result in constant projectile vomiting, which would require surgery to correct. Though Lucy’s shunt was functioning properly, it was a blood clot in her brain that ultimately caused her to pass away, something that was unlikely ever to be caught before it was too late. Ultimately, Jack learned of this in researching for this story; he was initially under the illusion that it was the shunt that had malfunctioned, and that his inaction was in part to blame for her death.

The minutes, hours, and days that followed are almost impossible to recount. If you’ve ever experienced loss, you know that words can’t really do it justice, and if you’ve never experienced loss of this magnitude like me you know how hard it is to put something like this into words.

Lucy Lennard | Photo credit: John Lennard

There was hope: emerging from the hospital into the rays of sunshine with his parents knowing that as a family they could get through it. There was stress: two parents in mourning, out of the country, and a funeral to plan, though his close family were invaluable during this time (Jack expressed sincere gratitude to people like his uncles, Michael and Andrew, and to his cousins, Conrad and Katie, for their support). There was levity: the rabbi repeatedly fluffing his lines at the shiva. Most of all, there was sadness.

At the funeral someone observed that Lucy left everyone better than they were before, and, after contemplation, Jack adopted this as a guiding mission for QPL to leave the community a better place than he found it.

Some of Jack’s friends have noticed that since her passing Jack has adopted some of Lucy’s traits, becoming more high-spirited and optimistic. Others have noticed more of a drive and more ambition, but in the short-term, the effect was absolute devastation.

Already a night owl, Jack abandoned sleep, stopped eating for days on end, and at the same time refused to mourn. Many friends worried for both his physical and mental health. Even now, more than a year later he admits that he’s less emotionally available.

Lucy Lennard was full of life and mischief | Photo Courtesy of Jack Lennard

“I used to live in a string of very meaningful long term relationships; after Lucy died I absolutely hit the self-destruct button for the relationship I was in at that time,” he said. “I still feel awful about that, because that person was great to me during the whole thing, and just got absolutely caught in the crossfire of my meltdown. And since then, I haven’t really been the same around people, though I am getting better, starting with close friends and becoming more comfortable being myself around them again.”

In many ways QPL was a product of this refusal to mourn. It was a way to put off accepting the death of a loved one and the guilt that came with it, a combination of survivor’s guilt of being the sibling who was still living, guilt for being away in Oxford and planning on going to New York which he saw as “abandoning” Lucy, and guilt for perhaps being a little relieved that the future of a narcissist who sees no limit to his ambitions or capabilities didn’t include caring for a relative though of course this would never be confessed, even to himself. By his own admission, creating a league has been at the very least cathartic. When he originally started planning the league, QPL was a place to store unhealthy emotions; now, it has become a way to overcome them.

With all things Jack, you’re left wondering about the genuineness of what is happening. Are you seeing the true face of someone who cares first and foremost about leaving a legacy, or are you seeing yet another projection, a smoke-screen obscuring a mask, hiding deep personal insecurities? Is this a person who genuinely admires the bold and acts in accordance with those values, or a deep sufferer of cognitive dissonance with a need to self-justify? Even here, in this piece, Jack is using myself and QP’s platform to promote QPL and validate his passion. He has melded in such a way with the persona he has created that he can now use it as yet another tool to advance his interests.

A quick look at Jack’s Twitter feed makes it clear that he has no qualms about antagonizing. As his former supervisor and on and off head of the Quidditch Post, I think I’ve probably had to clean up more messes of his creation than everyone else I’ve ever worked with in quidditch, combined. I’ve had long conversations with the IQA on his behalf, before I myself was a part of the organization, trying to prevent him from being banned from its events, and long conversations with him about the unacceptability of his conduct.

To find an explanation for Jack’s actions is to depend on the day, the hour, the minute, the second; certainly he believes he is doing the right thing, or at least one hopes so, but oftentimes his actions display an overabundance of passion and a lack of patience. It is impossible to understand precisely what motivates Jack because in most instances the particular motivations are fickle. Yet, despite an unpredictability that can at times be self-destructive, there are a remarkable number of consistencies, certain character traits that underlie who Jack is and what he does: wrath, pride, and most of all ambition.

This is Jack Lennard; this is the person in charge of the QPL. Whether that’s confidence-inspiring or terror-inducing depends on who you are. However, with game play starting soon, few can argue that the launch of the UK’s first summer league has been anything less than wildly successful.

The QPL was originally designed for second-tier players, those without realistic ambitions of making the national team, but due to popularity it was expanded to be openly accessible and it has been warmly received in the UK. In the process it has attracted a first-rate volunteer team, partnerships with established businesses and events, and a deal with a 12,000-seater rugby stadium to host the final. Jack launched the organisation live on Sky News, and in the subsequent week the QPL was featured in media outlets around the world: on the BBC, across all major UK national papers, in significant international media (such as the Washington Post), became a Moment on Twitter, and, finally, was mentioned on the talk show Conan.

Jack Lennard launching the QPL live on Sky News | Photo Courtesy of Jack Lennard

When Jack talks about the QPL you can see he’s stuck in two mindsets, torn between the responsibilities of being a steward to his league and a personal insatiable drive. In his first breath he says that survival is the key to a successful season. Two sentences later, he’s talking about covering the entire UK (at present neither Scotland nor Wales have a dedicated team), more teams, more coverage, and more presence. Creating an eightteam league providing a high-quality product is itself a task, yet there’s very little reason to believe this isn’t more than a trial balloon, floating before an even bigger launch.

Some of the QPL’s main organising team, with Jack in the foreground | Photo credit: Katy Lawrence

At some points, it’s difficult to remember that the QPL hasn’t yet had a single quaffle launched, bludger dodged, or snitch caught, such has been the relative smooth-sailing of the league. Teams have been assembled, logos unveiled, facilities secured. Whether or not the season proves a success is still up in the air. There are a lot of games to play; a lot of hurdles to overcome. But perhaps none are bigger than what has already been faced. What started as an outpouring of grief and a way to keep the mind at ease, has now, over the past year, become a stabilizer, a way to learn when to take a break, when to stop, and that it’s OK to be human and to experience emotions. Feelings have been strong and plentiful over the past year some good, more bad; on June 17 when that first brooms up is called, and a few months later when that final trophy is presented, there will be yet more flowing, and this time, unlike a few years ago, I think it’s safe to say that Jack will let himself feel those emotions.

The Quidditch Premier League was born for many reasons: to fill a void for top-flight quidditch over the summer and to fill a void in a person’s life created by the death of a loved one; to create a stage for players to showcase themselves and to create a stage for a leader to showcase himself; and to hone talent, just like its creation has honed its founder’s emotions.

The reason, more than anything, that Jack wanted this story written, the reason he spoke to me daily, the reason he offered countless forms of unsolicited advice, opened himself up to prying question after prying question, and volunteered deeply personal information is first and foremost to honor the life of Lucy. That’s what he wants this story to be and that’s what he wants the Quidditch Premier League to be. When we talked about the end of the season he hinted that there are some surprises coming with the trophy presentation. I wonder what someone will need to do to earn the Lucy Lennard Award.