I love the Harry Potter books. I also think the films are fantastic. The wizarding world created by J K Rowling was translated from page to screen in eight Warner Brothers films. A huge team of brilliant people helped to make the films just as successful as the books, and to introduce Harry and friends to a wider audience. The studio tour at Leavesden, Hertfordshire, England, includes loads of the sets, props, costumes and models that fans will instantly recognise – starting with some giant chess pieces from The Philosopher’s Stone before you even get inside! For fans entering the tour, it feels strangely like being at home because the surroundings are so familiar and John Williams’ musical score plays throughout. There was a real buzz to the place, with so many Harry Potter enthusiasts gathered. Some were in costume, including a girl who could have been Draco Malfoy’s double. Being a Sunday, there were a lot of families and young children there, but there were also many people around my age who would have grown up with the books.
There was a fair amount of waiting and queuing involved before each intake of visitors were allowed into the first proper set – the Great Hall. When I was there in early November, it was still decorated for Halloween, with ‘floating’ pumpkins and green glow. Unfortunately no one is allowed to hang around in there for more than about fifteen minutes before being moved on, to allow more people in. It struck me how much smaller the hall seemed than in the films, without the magic ceiling which seems to extend to the heavens. Anyway, you then go into the rest of the tour where you can look around at your leisure. There were too many brilliant things for me to list them all, but highlights for me included:
- Diagon Alley, including the famously wonky Gringotts frontage and the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes shopfront with its top-hat doffing gimmick
- Buckbeak the Hippogriff is amazing and you could swear he’s real – this is one of three animatronic versions made, each feather glued on individually
- The large swinging pendulum as seen in Prisoner of Azkaban
- Umbridge’s office with its pink and cat theme – the set designer scoured the charity shops for kitty-decorated plates
- An amazing 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts, beautifully illuminated, which can be viewed from all angles
There are displays and screens giving you more info about how the props were made, sets used etc. I loved the animals one, in which we’re introduced to the various cuddly characters who played Mrs Norris, Crookshanks, Fang and Hedwig. Apparently owls are the most difficult to train. There are also some interactive activities, such as a ‘green screen’ broomstick ride with expensive video souvenir, but I didn’t fancy it as much as the dozens of people queuing up.
I was so impressed with the detail put into making the world of Harry Potter believable and unique. The cabinet of wands used by the cast are all different, all matching each character. Snape’s potions classroom has hundreds of glass bottles and specimens. The art department displayed meticulous drawings and fabulous concept art. At the end of the tour, the Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald trailer was playing, while the very last items on display were the 1920s inspired costumes used in the film.
If you’re thinking of booking the tour (or asking for tickets as a birthday present…) here are my tips:
- There is a frequent Harry Potter bus from outside Watford Junction train station. The short bus ride to the studio currently costs £2.50 for a return ticket (cash only) – you need to show your tour tickets to the security guard before you board. I assumed the bus was free… I think it ought to be.
- Get there early – by the time you’ve taken photos in the courtyard outside the studio, queued to get your tickets checked, had your bags checked, had yourself scanned by security, taken stuff to the cloakroom, been to the toilet, queued up to have your tickets checked again for actually entering the tour…. it will be time for your allocated tour slot!
- Bring lunch with you – unless you want to make your day even more expensive.
- There was no mobile signal on my phone. It might have been different for others. Be aware of this and maybe you could arrange a place to meet in the event that you get separated from your friends.
- Avoid the Forbidden Forest if you’re arachnophobic or if you have a problem with flashing lights. You may want to go quickly through the creatures department if animatronics freak you out, as some of the creatures are moving.
- The lighting in much of the tour is fairly low, probably to preserve the artefacts (such as the House of Black tapestry, which was amazing to see but I couldn’t get a photo of it that wasn’t horribly blurred). If I was to return, I’d take my ‘proper’ camera because my phone wasn’t really up to the task.
- You could easily spend a few hundred pounds on the day (in addition to the travel and your pre-booked tickets), as the food, photos/videos and expensive gift shop merchandise will add up. If you have a shared bank account, maybe best to discuss what you’re prepared to spend beforehand.
Have you been on the tour? Are you thinking of going and what would you be most excited to see?!