I grew up with Harry Potter. I read the Philosopher’s Stone when I was 9. The characters at the time were 10. Nearly every age milestone of my teen years was marked with a new addition to the series. They were the classics of my generation.
Upon completion of the the eighth film – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (II) – the main filming location was transformed into a visitor attraction. It was a place where fans, young and old, could come and experience the world they’d seen on the big screen for themselves. While visiting London last Autumn I absolutely couldn’t pass up the chance to go along and see the Studios for myself.
Having taken the dedicated tour bus to the Studios (not the Knight Bus – HP-insider joke for you right there!) we had to wait for a little while before queuing up to join the start of our tour. We made short work of a couple of Venti Lattes from the in-house Starbucks – having woken up at 5.30am to meet the bus.
Each tour gets to preview an introduction video before being greeted by the site of the iconic Great Hall doors. They asked if it was anybody’s birthday. As it happens, it was mine. The tour guide barely got the question out before my brother turned to me with a death glare: “don’t you dare!”. So, yes. I missed my chance to open the doors of Hogwarts. But I’m a grown-up and am completely over it and have moved on (!) The tour starts on a real high – the Great Hall itself. After another short intro, this time from a Leavesden employee, we were left to plug in our digital guides and take the tour at our own pace.
The detail was incredible. Dumbledore’s lectern – covered in an accumulation of real candle wax. The icy punch bowls of the Yule Ball from The Goblet of Fire. Snape’s wig. The Gryffindor Common Room. The swinging pendulum clock so prominent in The Prisoner of Azkaban. The level of detail was beyond imagination. The artistry of the entrance of the Chamber of Secrets truly stunned as Tom Felton (the voice of the digital tour guide and the actor who played Draco Malfoy) explained that the mechanics were all real and no special effects had been used to create it. I could go on – the Burrow, Potions Class, Hagrid’s Hut. The creatures department, Diagon Alley. We were even lucky enough to arrive on the first day of their Halloween exhibition so we got to see Umbridge’s pink office in all its glory!
But for me, the real magic was outside. Below is one of my favourite photos of the day. I got a birthday Butterbeer from my brother, which we drank outside Privet Drive (obviously!) whilst looking onto the glorious purpleness of the Knight Bus.
It was a real pleasure to get to see and fully appreciate the artistry of the graphic designers and model makers so closely. Their work was laid out and displayed so beautifully. So many details that often didn’t even appear in the films could be seen here behind glass cases. It really adds another dimension to the films once you know to look out for these previously out-of-sight details. The jewel in the crown of the tour is the model of Hogwarts Castle at the end. I promise you that you will not have seen anything like it before.
Harry Potter remains quite divisive. People either love it or hate it. Or they love the books and didn’t like the films. Or vice versa. Regardless of what your feelings are, Leavesden Studios is a worthwhile stop for anyone who is interested in costume, sets, props, special effects and any manner of things relating to film making. It really is a magical place.
Tickets for Leavesden Studios need to be purchased beforehand: http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk
We got the Complete Studio Tour Package (£42.95 each) which included your ticket, a souvenir guide and a digital guide for the tour. I would absolutely insist you get the digital guide if you can. It’s great for little bit of behind-the-scenes info and each section of the Studio has a number guide that you use to play the appropriate tid-bit.
We went from London Victoria to Leavesden Studios with Golden Tours. The journey took between 1 1/2 and 2 hours (it’s about 20 minutes from Luton Airport) and you need to show your Studio ticket to get on the bus. It’s slightly pricey (£58 for the two of us) but that’s to be expected in London and it was by far the easiest way to get there. You can make your own way via trains etc but it takes just as long and is a lot more hassle, especially when you reach the train station nearest the studios.
Plus you get to ride in this magnificent carriage: