I'm pretty sure, that if I stopped 100 people in the street and asked them if they knew who Harry Potter was, 98 of them would be able to tell me, even if they hadn't read the books or watched the films. Yup, Harry Potter, the wizard that has captured the hearts and imagination of millions of people worldwide, is a household name, and the global brand is worth an estimated £7 billion. Wowzer. JK Rowling, the British novelist that penned the fantasy series, is, as far as I'm concerned, an absolute genius, and I have no shame in saying that I have been riding on the Harry Potter bandwagon since 'the boy that lived' made his literary debut in 1997.
This week, somewhere in the middle of a bloody brilliant week off, I decided to check out the latest addition to the Harry Potter empire, and took an eagerly anticipated trip to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Watford. The night before, I was so excited that I couldn't even close my eyes without picturing wands and broomsticks and owls. The studio tour is, after all, the real deal, and though my expectations were very high, I'm pleased to say I was not at all disappointed by what awaited me.
The tour is split into sections. The first section, which starts in the Great Hall (jay zeus and fiddlesticks, it's marvellous), houses the most iconic sets from the movies, including the Gryffindor common room, Dumbledore's office, the Weasley kitchen, the Ministry of Magic, the Mirror of Erised, and Hagrid's hut. I found myself skipping round like a half-intoxicated llama, stunned by the attention to detail evident in every single set, and in the knowledge that this was where the stars of the Potter phenomenon had filmed the scenes that I know and love. In fact, I was probably guilty of shrieking a little when coming face to face with Ron Weasley's bed in the boy's dorm. Ron Weasley's bed, trunk and all. Beautiful.
Section 1 also allows avid fans the chance to have their photos taken in the flying Ford Anglia, followed by a ride on a Nimbus 2000, all created via a green screen effect. Whilst my friend and I were more than willing to get involved in the experience, and gleefully throw on the Gryffindor robes we were given, we were a little let down by the fact that we had to queue for an entire hour to get snapped, and more-so by the fact that the broomstick photos were hideous. Apparently, my body, on a broomstick, just doesn't work. Flying African elephant, anyone?!
Despite the fact that all of our confidence had been destroyed by a half-wonky broomstick and a man with a fan, we were smiling again the second that we entered the next part of the tour, the outdoors section. Here we were greeted by the real Ford Anglia, Hogwarts bridge, Hagrid's motorcycle (there I am looking sexaaay on it at the top of this post....), the Knight bus, and the infamous No.4 Privet Drive. Once again, I found myself overwhelmed by the brilliance of the sets, and raised a nerdy toast to JK Rowling whilst sipping on a half-pint of butterbeer, which, by the way, is delicious. Mmm.
The final part of the tour, not including the souvenir shop (£10 for a chocolate frog... eeeouch!), is the extravagant model of Hogwarts castle itself, which was used in exterior shots in every single film, and stands at a stunning 50ft. The intricacy of the model is absolutely breath-taking; all doors are hinged, and over 2500 fibre optic lights give the impression that wand-clad students are walking through the towers. We left with goosebumps.
Overall, I'd absolutely, 100% recommend you pay a visit to the studio tours. Yes, you'll pay £5 for a baguette at Watford station, yes you'll pay £28 for a ticket (which must be ordered in advance), and yes, you'll probably find yourself going merchandise crazy in the souvenir shop, but it really is worth every single penny. The amount of effort, and time, that has been dedicated to the Harry Potter spectacular is beyond comprehension, and I don't think you can fully appreciate how wonderful it is until you experience the sets for yourself.
And in the words of the lovely JK Rowling, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home. The only thing I need now, is my very own piece of wizard folk. There's something strangely attractive about a man in magical garments...