It’s not all eating leaves and drinking water with me you know! Today is a completely different angle. Sophie (our younger daughter) won a Tesco competition in February that gave her a sneaky peek for the Harry Potter behind the scenes tour at Leavesden Studios. She asked me if I’d go with her, most probably so she had a guaranteed return journey!
A bit of background info. Sophie is mad, mad, mad on Harry Potter. I know that at 17 years of age she probably should have moved on, but she grew up reading the books and watching the films and getting silly over Rupert Grint. It’s been an obsession growing for a long time. The competition couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person! So much so, that despite telling me every 15 minutes on the way there that she was “so excited” that when we pulled into the studios and saw the Harry Potter posters and signage she screamed in my ear so bloody loud I swerved… this was going to be exhausting!
The beauty of going in early before the public had access was that it was quiet. So we weren’t rushed or hassled, it was nice to have space and take time looking at what we wanted to look at. We started at 09.45 and appeared from the gift shop(more on that later) about 12.15. I think if it had been busier it would have easily taken 3 hours and a few exhibits weren’t open for us to view.
You start the tour with three guided sections. An introductory room with a preview film on how the first film came into being. A second viewing in a very comfy cinema, then a guided tour of The Great Hall, after that you were left to your own devices.
I think I would say at this point, don’t take little children if you personally have an interest in this film and all the millions of hours of painstaking work that went into it. Little kids don’t want to stop and read signs, don’t appreciate the intricacies of handmade wands, robes, handwritten potions label bottles, handmade tapestries and hundreds of paintings made for the walls of Hogwarts. It really is stunning. Don’t take them if you’re going to get pissed off with them for ruining your day, or accept that you won’t see it all. Your choice.
You move through the tour from one sound studio with parts of set laid out to small displays and details of departments like wardrobe and hair and make up. You see wigs and beards and all manner of Harry’s clothes in various stages of distress. There are props of various scenes. Resin chocolate puddings for example and a proper chocolate falcon that is 7 years old!
Within this section are sets of the dorm (tiny beds that were made when the boys were 11 and grew out of!), the common room with minute details that in the film would be on screen for a mere glimpse and then a large section of just props large and small, intricate and brash. Attention to detail just doesn’t even touch the surface. You could also have a ride on a broom, wearing robes of the house of our choice and have a green screen film going on behind you! I’ll add it was all adults on this! If you wanted a memory of this? It’s £12.50 please for a photo…
From that sound studio you are moved outside where you can stand outside 4 Privet Drive, stand on the Knight Bus (it really is 3 levels and made up of the parts of 3 London buses), sit in the Ford Anglia or just drink butter beer (not cheap, very sweet, but needed to be done!). From there you move inside again and see more of the behind the scenes stuff like the model makers, the artists and the animatronics people. There is a great 3 part video with the main model maker man and Warwick Davies, where the best quote was “you never turn down the opportunity to make a dragon”! So many of the scenes, when you would assume there was CGI or special effects, were actually made or really worked. Like Molly Weasley’s magic washing up brush (works), self stirring cauldron in potions lesson (works), the huge door with snakes all over it that slide to open the door (bloomin’ well works!, this thing was h-u-g-e!).
From there you move into the preparatory stages for the film, the detailed pencil drawings for the buildings, the white paper models made to scale so perfectly that the owlery had little owls sat in each archway. The beautiful paintings used to set character or scenes. Pieces of work that ordinarily go unseen and unconsidered. Astounding talent from so many people.
You walk along Diagon Alley, see Gringots and look in the window of Ollivander’s and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes cobbled floors and all! There is a really breathtaking moment which I’ll leave for you to experience for yourself if you go. For a grown woman I’m not ashamed to say it bought a tear to my eye!
Finally you leave the exhibition by passing through the inside of Ollivander’s wand shop. Box upon box of ‘wand’, each named (by hand) with the name of everyone who had worked on the films. Over 4000 of them. Ceiling to floor on 3 walls. A nice touch I thought.
You then move into the shop, hmm, now this is where I think they missed a trick. It’s SO expensive. Ridiculously expensive. £10 for mug, £7.99 for a chocolate frog, £7.99 for a bag of sweets, £25 for a tee-shirt. Silly money. I know people do spend on such things, but make it cheaper and more people would have bought. There was nothing pocket money priced for the younger children which I thought was a shame. Sophie didn’t buy anything, even though she wanted to as it was so overpriced. Shame on you Warner Brothers, you’ve made a lot of money out of Harry Potter already, milk it even more why don’t you. (pic of most expensive item I saw in the shop — copy of Albus’s robes! really, who is going to buy this?!)
So, all in all if I’d have paid the £28 per adult, £21 per child ticket price would I have thought it was good value? Yes, I would. It’s a fascinating experience IF you can spend the time to read the posters and appreciate the work and passion that went into these films. If I got the chance to go again I would, I missed stuff and would enjoy finding out more. Just be warned that the cafe and gift shop are over-priced, so go well informed or thick skinned to protect yourself from the cries of “but Mum, I want ONE”.