The making of Harry Potter studio tour, Leavesden

26 April 2012

I’m completely shattered for reasons which will quickly become apparent! In a nutshell, today was the once Six Year Old’s seventh birthday, which means that from now on he will be referred to as the Seven Year Old. As he is a bit of a Harry Potter fanatic (I wonder where he gets that from?!), we secretly bought tickets for the all shiny and new Warner Bros studio tour that has just opened near Watford.

I ought to add at this point that if you aren’t a regular reader of this blog and are just here for the low down on the Warner Bros Harry Potter tour at Levesden, then you should skip to the end for some thoughts on this!

We secretly managed to get a day off school for him, which neatly coincided with his class going on a trip to a farm, which meant we got away with getting him to wear normal clothes instead of his uniform. We told him we were giving him a lift to the farm on the outskirts of Bristol but wondered how far we’d get along the M4 before he twigged. Well, I can report that he has definitely inherited my sense of distance as even after TWO HOURS in the car, he still hadn’t realised that he wasn’t actually on his way to the farm which was apparently only a few miles away from our house.

All the subterfuge (we smuggled a picnic, two wands and a Gryffindor robe past him!) was worth it though when we turned into the Studio Tour car park and the boys saw the HUGE hangar with Harry Potter banners hanging outside. The Three Year Old was particularly thrilled.

We had an hour to kill so had lunch and then wandered around the shop, which was quite frankly the most amazing emporium of expensive delights that I have ever entered. Bar possibly Harvey Nichols. I could probably have bought everything in there, but mostly lost my heart to a Ravenclaw T shirt (Pottermore may have sorted me into Gryffindor but we all know that’s not right), fluffy owls and oh crikey, EVERYTHING. There’s all the books on sale, of course, as well as the films as well as costumes (a replica of Hermione’s winter ball gown is particularly striking and not at all Disney Princess cheap and nasty), actual CHOCOLATE FROGS (£6), T shirts, scarves, Lego, EVERYTHING.

Finally it was time to enter the first part of the tour (going past Harry’s cupboard under the stairs) and excitement mounted as we entered a small room to watch a brief introduction to the Harry Potter phenomenon (try and type ‘phenomenon’ without mentally adding ‘doo-doo-dee-doo-doo’) and then went on to a cinema to watch a film about the making of the films presented by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. This was great as it reminded us of all the stunning special effects that we were about to see basically deconstructed and explained.

I won’t ruin what happened next but after this we were able to enter the Great Hall. I’ll admit that I was a bit tearful at this stage – I mean, it’s the HOGWARTS GREAT HALL. Absolutely amazing. This is the last ‘guided’ bit of the exhibition and although you are encouraged to take photos, you are swiftly ushered on to the main bit which comes immediately afterwards.

The Great Hall is stunning though – it really is incredible to see first hand just how much attention to detail went into the production of the Harry Potter films.

It’s lined with costumes from the films, such as Neville’s iconic cardigan!

Snape’s robes!

After this we were let loose to wander around the main exhibition, which was HUGE and starts with some of the set pieces and costumes from the ball in The Goblet of Fire. Poor old Ron having to wear these robes. They aren’t even shabby chic.

The Three Year Old and I, reflected in the Mirror of Erised.

The boys and I, posing in front of the Hogwarts gates.

The Fat Lady who guards the entrance to Gryffindor’s common room. I wonder if she minds being called the ‘Fat Lady’ – that’s always really bothered me.

The Gryffindor common room. This is so incredibly cosy. You could also see the boys’ dormitory with their snug four poster beds.

Costumes worn by Ron, Hermione and Harry – including the invisibility cloak.

Sirius Black’s rather becoming prison garb.

Remus and Tonks. I love them.

Costumes worn by Ron, Hermione and Harry in the last film – looking a bit worse for wear!

The Triwizard cup OF DOOM.

A selection of interesting artifacts, including the Philosophers Stone and Golden Snitch.

The Potions classroom, presided over by Professors Slughorn and Snape.

Dumbledore in his office, complete with Sorting Hat!

There’s a case containing all of the Horcruxes (well, most of them!). I’ve always thought the Ravenclaw Diadem is particularly becoming and wouldn’t mind owning a replica at some point.

I absolutely love the portrait wall – as an Art History graduate, I always notice the paintings hanging in the background of scenes so it was nice to get a closer look at some of them!

I particularly like the witchy Mary Tudor with her wand!

The entrance to the Chamber of Secrets.

The Weasley’s kitchen. There’s stuff to touch here to get the knife ‘magically’ chopping and dishes being ‘magically’ scrubbed. I could only look on in envy. I think we all want to live in The Burrow though, don’t we?

Hagrid’s motorbike.

After the display of rather excitingly steampunk props such as Remus Lupin’s self packing suitcase and a prop broomstick with lots of gears and pistons and so on, it was time to join the rather big queue for the broomstick rides! I decided not to have a go (although as predicted, I’m regretting this now) but the boys were both game and each had a turn at riding the broomstick against a green screen, which of course was magically transformed into a daring dash through London traffic and then across the lake at Hogwarts. They thought it was amazing. You can buy photographs afterwards, which I was faintly worried about but it wasn’t too bad – £12 for one or £15 for two.

Death Eater masks. Boo hiss etc.

A gang of baddies.

Costume worn by Helen McCrory as Narcissa Malfoy.

Costume worn by Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange.

Hurray, it’s The Hot Snatcher aka Scabior, who is played by Nick Moran.

The Ministry of Magic’s ‘Magic is Might’ statue is a really oppressively horrible piece of work. In an immensely impressive way.

The Ministry of Magic.

A selection of Dolores Umbridge’s lovely pink costumes. It’s all very Jackie Kennedy chic isn’t it? Or maybe not.

Just look at her office though! I’m sorting out my home office at the moment and am thinking I could definitely take some decorating tips from Ms Umbridge. Except for the cat plates perhaps.

The Black family tree complete with burnt out Sirius. Poor sod.

There followed some displays of some excellent art work and props, including sweet packets, the Marauders’ Map and an OWL examination paper.

It was time to venture outside into the rain next but we didn’t mind because, look!, it’s the KNIGHT BUS in all its purple glory! They let you pose on the back of the bus, which was excellent. You can also sit inside the Weasley’s feral car and Hagrids motorbike and sidecar.

There’s a Starbucks stand outside as well as a stall next door selling butter beer for £2.95 a half. As expected, butter beer tasted like ice cream soda with an additional ‘head’ of creamy vanilla stuff. It’s pretty nice actually!

Also outside is the Riddle family tomb, which looked suitably eerie in the rain.

You can also pose on the doorstep of the Dursley’s miserable house on Privet Drive and then discuss whether they are actually as middle class as they think they are.

There’s also a part of the Hogwarts bridge.

The house at Godric’s Hollow.

It was time to head indoors again after this for a look at more props and how they were made and animated.

John Cleese’s head.

A wall of goblins.

Dead Dumbledore.

What really lies underneath a Dementor’s cloaks.

Thestrals.

After this it was time for Diagon Alley, which was simply amazing – it’s so rickety and old fashioned and quirky. It was just fabulous.

It’s such a weird but magical experience – you can walk along Diagon Alley and peer into all of the windows. There’s almost TOO MUCH to look at to be honest but it was a real high point for me.

After this it was on to the art department. I got a copy of Harry Potter: Page to Screen for Christmas and was completely blown away by how much work went on in the art department with some amazing paintings and drawings being produced of the sets and scenes. Much of it is actually detailed and beautifully presented enough to be on display on a gallery and so it was a real treat to see much of it hanging here.

Hogwarts in ruins.

I was very taken with this picture of the Weasley’s car and the Whomping Willow. If they’d sold a poster of this, I would totally have bought one.

The escape from Gringotts Bank.

Azkaban.

Durmstrang’s ship.

There was music playing everywhere in the studios but it was never intrusive and in fact very often well chosen. I thought I’d find it annoying eventually but it really wasn’t. It reached a soaring crescendo though when we entered the next room and I became really weepy as we all moved en masse towards the giant (and I mean GIANT) model of Hogwarts Castle. I mean, come on, IT’S HOGWARTS.

The lighting changed constantly to show the castle throughout the course of a day – this is Hogwarts at night, which shows how the windows were lit up from within.

Hogwarts in the morning.

Hogwarts at sunset.

Dusk.

Words can’t express what an awe inspiring sight this is – it’s just massive and so incredibly detailed. I can’t even begin to imagine how many hours of work went into creating something so wonderful.

After this it was on to a room stacked high with wand boxes, each one bearing the name of someone who worked on the film. I didn’t even try to find Daniel Radcliffe’s box (or my favourites – David Thewlis and Nick Moran) but I found a couple of names that I recognised…

After this it was on to the shop again, where I bought my Ravenclaw T shirt (£21.99), yet another Lego Harry Potter set for the birthday boy (we’ve only got the Hogwarts Express set left to get now – eek) and some other bits and bobs before we went home, exhausted but thrilled by our day.

The low down:

How much? I thought that the tickets (£28 each adult and £21 for children aged 5-15) were really good value considering how much stuff there was to see and how much thought had gone into the presentation.

The shop was pricey – there wasn’t much that was ‘pocket money’ priced but I think they’d decided to make it a high quality emporium of gorgeousness. Any Harry Potter fan would be in heaven here though – I want to go back and buy one of the school jumpers they had. T shirts were £21.99, fluffy owl toys about £12 and so on, so it wasn’t all massively spendy. Just don’t expect, I dunno, 50p rubbers and pencils and stuff, that’s all.

The photos of broomstick antics were £12 for one and £15 for two, which I didn’t mind paying.

The café was reasonably priced from what I saw. There’s also a Starbucks stand in the entrance hall and in the outdoor area which sold hot drinks for standard Starbucks prices (about £2 for a coffee my husband tells me), sandwiches for £3-£5 and juice drinks. Butterbeer was £2.95 for a half pint.

How long? We spent four hours in there but could easily have stayed in for longer. The Three Year Old was getting restless though.

There’s almost TOO MUCH STUFF in here though. I mean, I’ve posted a lot of photographs but the things I’ve shown you on this here blog post just scrapes the surface really of how much they have on show. It’s a HUGE space and filled to the brim with Harry Potter stuff.

Is it easy to get around? It’s very easy to get around. I didn’t notice any stairs at all and there were lots of people in wheelchairs or with pushchairs in the building.

The people staffing the exhibition were really lovely too and deserve multitudes of praise for being unfailingly sweet natured, cheerful and friendly. The Three Year Old had an epic meltdown on Diagon Alley and one of the girls working in there came over to make sure everything was okay and he wasn’t scared and then stayed to chat to both boys as we walked up the ‘street’, which was immensely helpful as he calmed right down once he had a new person to exclaim! at.

Comestibles? I can’t comment on the sandwiches as we brought our own and ate them in true British style while sitting in our car in the middle of torrential rain.

What else? There’s a cash point (free) and cloakroom (also free) in the entrance hall. There’s also spacious loos at about three points in the tour.

In summary, the Harry Potter studio tour is a magical experience that would thrill fans of both books and films, no matter what age they may be. It really is utterly incredible and a superb memorial to the series – you can’t help but be moved by the obvious amounts of loving care that went into each and every object, no matter how small, that was on display and as a writer, I found myself in sheer awe of the extent and depth of JK Rowling’s vision and imagination. It felt like a real privilege to be able to experience it all for myself.

Further reading:

Harry Potter: Page to Screen

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