I’m a huge Potter fan. I’ve read every book, cover to cover, (and over again with my daughter) and enjoyed all the films. In fact, this is one series where I think the films are almost as good as the books. Almost;) So you can imagine how thrilled I was to get my mitts on tickets around the Warner Bros Studio tour.
Just off junction 6 of the M1 and less than 10 miles outside St Albans, we found the UK studios at Leavesden, London surprisingly easy to get to. Ever since they opened in March, they have been fully booked, so pre-booked tickets are a must.
Right from the moment you pass through the gates you get a strong feeling of organisation: we were directed into a car parking space, staff welcomed us at the entrance handing passports out to the children requiring them to search for ‘stamps’ and snitches in each of the tour rooms, and indeed throughout the tour there are an abundance of well informed staff around in case you have any questions.
Stepping into the foyer, we were greeted by life size photographs of the characters hanging from the high ceiling sending sizzles of excitement through us. Your ticket gives you a half hour slot to join the tour. We queued at 6.30pm for only 2 minutes (there are props and scenes to view here too including Potter’s glasses and the cupboard under the stairs), then led into the introductory suite where they give you a brief background talk and video on how the story transformed from book to film. You then pass through into an auditorium where you watch a short film presented by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson where they talk about growing up on the set (they were all 9/10 years old when they started filming Philosopher’s Stone), what the experience meant to them and how the sets came to life. This over, the screen is raised and huge doors open to Hogwarts great hall – to wonderful gasps from children in the audience.
Tables line the edges of the hall, with the uniforms of Ravenclaw, Griffindor, Hufflepuff and Slytherin laid out, as well as many of the teachers’ actual outfits. After a brief history about the hall, you pass through into another large room, containing various scenes incorporating the Griffindor common room, Snape’s Potion room, the Weasley’s kitchen at the Burrow and a huge array of props including the Mirror of Erised.
Next, you move into an open area where there are refreshments including butter beer and the Knight bus, flying car, the houses of Privet Drive and Godric’s Hollow to explore, before walking through the set of Diagon Alley and through to view a huge model of Hogwarts castle.
There are hoards of behind the scenes secrets and revelations about how they filmed magical scenes – but I won’t spoil it for you. Suffice to say, if you are interested in how they bring a fantasy story to life, you will certainly love this tour.
What struck me was the incredible work that went into the costumes, sets, make-up and masks. Some of the sets contained intricate details which were all drawn up by architects before the builders and artists set to work. Many of actors spent hours in make-up including the goblins at Gringotts – it took an average of 5 hours to get that look! You certainly get the feeling that it must have been an amazing experience to have worked on this project whether acting, supporting artist, or behind the scenes.
One of nicest things about this tour is that, for the most part, you go along at your own pace so you can double back and enjoy scenes, props, costumes, again and again as long as you stay within the room. Once you move to the next room, you cannot return. Also, unusually, they allow photographs to be taken in all areas apart from the auditoriums. We had great fun taking photos beside the Prisoner of Azkaban’s triple-decker Knight bus, on Hagrid’s bike and side car, in Diagon alley and in Dumbledore’s room, to name but a few.
Here are my highlights:
The flying car – I still remember the thrill of reading this in the second novel. The very thought that a car can fly through the skies over London captivated my imagination.
Hogwarts hall – The twinkling ceiling stars of Hogwarts hall made me want to fold back the years and join Hogwarts School of Witches and Wizardry, and the set here really brings it to life.
Dumbledore’s room – One of my favourite characters of the series, Dumbledore’s room with its photographs of previous headmasters’ decorating the walls and twisty staircase is enthralling.
Diagon Alley – Walking across the cobbles of Diagon Alley, past Gringotts Wizarding Bank, Ollivanders wand shop, and Flourish and Blotts bookshop (to name but a few) was breathtaking.
The tour takes around 3 hours and at £28.00 for adults and £21.00 for children, (although there are family and group options available) this is not a budget experience. The two refreshment venues are not cheap either, with a glass of butter beer setting you back around £2.95. However, if you are a Potter fan, I think its well worth the investment. As a reader and writer, it’s wonderful to watch one person’s vision come to life; a truly enchanting experience.
For more information on the UK tour and to pre-book tickets, visit the website at http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/tour/tour/
I’d like to extend warm thanks to our dear friends Julie, Amber and Thomas who accompanied Ella and I on the tour, were wonderful company and made the day so special. We particularly enjoyed the pre-tour trip to The Waffle House in St Albans – thanks guys!