If you don’t know, I’m a Northern girl. And I’m extremely proud. I love our rain, I love our sense of humour and I love the fact that we can get away with eating chips and gravy without anyone saying anything.
Well, to our face anyway.
But do you know what we don’t have?
My very best friend and fellow Party Floor dweller G (who helped me out with my Welsh post) and The Making of Harry Potter, Warner Brothers Studio Tour.
Luckily however, I’ve got them both on Wear the Old Coat today. Seeing as G always, always has fabulous coats that make me green with envy… it’s impossible to call her an Honorary Wearer of Old Coats (HWoOC), I’ve asked her politely if she would mind leaving it at the door.
And when I say politely I mean I scowled at her and turned the heating up until she had to take it off.
Anyway, let’s grab our wands, don our robes and all solemnly swear that we’re up to no good.
WARNING: Contains cardigans. Neville cardigans.
It’s wizard, Harry.
When I told Jo that I’d been on the Harry Potter studio tour, (almost) her first reaction was to ask me to write a guest post for Wear the Old Coat. How could I refuse? So, this is the story of how me and two friends (between us passable look-alikes for Harry, Hermione and Luna) left the Muggle universe behind and entered The Chamber of Secrets… aka the Harry Potter tour of the Warner Brothers Studio.
For those of you that don’t know, this is the British answer to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Universal theme park which opened in Florida in 2010. Every UK-based Harry Potter fan who didn’t have a vault overflowing with Galleons – sorry, pounds – complained at the distance and cost of visiting it, the closest thing we could get to Hogwarts. So when Warner Brothers announced they’d be opening the doors of the Leavesden studios used to film all seven Harry Potter films, it was joy and pumpkin juices all round. The tour’s website promised “a unique showcase of the extraordinary British artistry, technology and talent that went into making the most successful film series of all time,” with “many things the camera never showed.” (wbstudiotour.co.uk)
So, it was on a dull grey Thursday (not Tuesday) that my friends and I set out from our town, Edenbridge. Three normal-coloured trains – leaving from whole number platforms – and a standard double-decker bus ride later, we were standing on an old aerodrome outside… this.
Not very magical-looking, is it? Don’t worry. It gets better.
We joined a long queue, which ran past The Cupboard Under The Stairs, through a room full of screens – which displayed a short film about David Heyman and co’s discovery of the books – and finally into a mini cinema. I took a seat in the front row, wondering if everything here was going to be on film, and watched Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson talk about how Warner Brothers had turned JK Rowling’s visions into props and sets and scenery. Interesting, but still only introduction.
Until the lights came on, the screen rolled up into the ceiling and the double doors behind it opened – as if by magic – revealing the Great Hall. Everyone was off their seats and into the room like a shot, staring round at the house tables, the flagstone floor, the fireplaces, the costumes…
The sudden change from being in front of a screen to being behind it – in it – went to everyone’s heads, and it became clear that getting photos (or even a decent view) would be tricky from then on. Hardly anyone listened to the tour guide, except when she announced that the costumes on display had all been used in the film – yes, including Cedric Diggory’s. Cue girly squeals and stifled attempts to touch robes worn by R-Patz.
Once our guide had finished her spiel, we were released into the main area of the tour. This was the enormous studio where all the sets were constructed and used for filming. Now, it’s a shrine to all things wizarding. There are sets, both full scale (the Gryffindor boys’ dormitory, Dumbledore’s office, the Potions dungeon and the Burrow kitchen) and miniature (the Leaky Cauldron hallway and Great Hall ceiling). Props are piled high and displayed in glass cases – the Triwizard Cup, the Golden Snitch, wands, broomsticks and Horcruxes (except Harry. And the snake). A whole hour passed us by very quickly with so much to read, learn and stare at. There was a chance to have our photos taken on broomsticks in front of a greenscreen, but we opted out after seeing the queue and headed out into the backlot.
This outside area was smaller, but still big enough to hold the Knight Bus (which you can hop onto the back of), Hagrid’s bike and sidecar, Tom Riddle’s grave stone, the giant chess set, the walkway used in the third film, Godric’s Hollow, the Ford Anglia – oh, and half of Privet Drive. I also got the chance to sample Butterbeer, which was extortionately priced and kind of sickly after a while. The vanilla-flavoured froth on the top was nice though.
Next up was another series of indoor rooms – the first displaying wigs, prosthetics and models (my favourite was an incredibly lifelike and adorable animatronic Hedwig), the second with walls covered in artists’ pencil sketches and gorgeous concept art, and the third…
A cobbled street which twisted and turned out of sight.
Yes, we were on Diagon Alley. Ok, so you can’t actually go in Gringotts or any of the shops, but the cobbles underfoot are real and it all looks so beautiful, from the ice creams in the window of Florean Fortescue’s to the owls in cages outside Eeylops.
Now, at this point I thought the tour was pretty much over. I mean, you can’t get much better than Diagon Alley, right?
I turned the corner and literally screamed.It is, of course, the scale model of Hogwarts used for all the exterior shots in the films. I never realised from those brief glimpses how big or detailed it was – it made me so giddy I took about 25 photos from every angle imaginable. It was the perfect finale to a tour full of surprises.
Perched atop a high mountain on the other side, its windows sparkling in the starry sky, was a vast castle with many turrets and towers.
Did I say finale? WHOOPS.
You can’t have an attraction dedicated to a multi-million dollar franchise without a shop. And this shop was like Diagon Alley’s bestsellers squeezed into one room: robes, wands, sweets, books, fluffy Hedwigs, fluffier Pygmy Puffs, crystal balls, Sorting Hats, house hoodies and ties and t-shirts…
Obviously, it would have been offensive to JK Rowling if I’d left without buying anything, and as a devoted fan of Pottermore, I felt it was time to show my true (house) colours.
Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.
Hell yes, I’m a Ravenclaw.
I felt less guilty about treating myself to the above when my Harry-alike friend bought the hardback book of the tour for… £50. Once we’d been round the shop three times and seen everything, it was time to set off on the journey home. I stared out of the train window, my head full of wizarding knowledge and my pockets empty of money, wishing for the thousandth time in my life that Hogwarts was real. In some ways, it had been like rediscovering the books all over again, recreating that feeling that only comes from connecting with something special. It was like being eleven again.
“No story lives unless someone wants to listen” – JK Rowling.
The shrine to Harry Potter created in the Leavesden studios, and the crowds flocking to it every day, prove that there are thousands of people out there who still want to listen. And that JK Rowling’s stories will continue to live on.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to re-read them.
Please tell me you’re feeling just as jealous as I am? A huge, huge thank you to G for writing this wonderful piece for me.
Doesn’t that look like the most AMAZING place in the world? Have you ever been? Are you dying to go too?
And more importantly, would you rather see Cedders’ robe or Neville’s woollens?
Be careful how you answer that…