Despite living right around the corner from The Harry Potter Studios at Leavesden, my best friend being a supervisor there, and being a decent fan of the whole saga and infatuated by film, it has taken me 2 years to get there. I guess when it’s right on your doorstep it doesn’t seem as pressing to get there.
As you expect, the outside of the studios is pretty industrial looking and it’s similar inside too, but you can’t help getting caught up in the excitement of it all, especially with the kids in our tour group waving magic wands and shouting out spells. After some awkward chattering from the tour guides and a cringy short film with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson talking about their “life-changing” experience, a pair of large wooden doors creak open… to reveal the first iconic set of the tour: The Great Hall.
I was quite distressed at the non-existent ceiling of floating candles; I guess CGI just doesn’t happen in real life. There’s also something kind of creepy about the Hogwarts professors being faceless mannequins, though I suspect it would be worse if they did have faces.
The guided tour abruptly ends in the Great Hall and you are left to wander as slowly as you please through the rest of the rooms of sets and props. One of the first and one that caught my eye was the Mirror of Erised. Dumbledore says the mirror shows the “deepest and most desperate desire of one’s heart.”
That’s me, looking in the mirror through my camera lens – can you see it reflecting my deepest, most desperate desire to travel endlessly?
The mirror is followed by the Gryffindor dorm rooms…
Dumbledore’s office… complete with strange Dumbledore mannequin (wasn’t he in the Great Hall before?)
Out on the backlot (yes, there’s an outdoor section, and it’s freezing on a February evening in the UK!) sits Privet Drive, the Knight bus, the Ford Anglia, and, a little bizarrely, the Hogwarts Bridge.
Apparently the Knight bus is constructed out of 3 London buses. They had to add extra weights to the bottom of it to stop it from falling over.
Out in the backlot still, part-way through the tour, a sign reads:
“One of only two places in the world you can taste butterbeer”
However, the internet tells me Starbucks are selling (read: branding) something very similar. That said, I promptly pulled out £2.95 (stung) and bought a butterbeer. It wasn’t hot, or out of a barrel, and even worse, it wasn’t in a bottle.
“What in this?” my mum asked. The resident house elf, tall and specky in a black HP cap, replied, “It’s a secret recipe. I can only tell you that it has a taste like butterscotch and a hint of shortbread.”
“Is it alcoholic?” I asked (stupid question). “No…”
“It’s not really butterbeer at all then…” I thought to myself before I smiled at the guy, and stalked off over to the knight bus.
Fortunately, the rest of the Harry Potter studios tour was better than the butterbeer!
And the tour continues! Onto Diagon Alley, which was so much smaller than you would expect:
And the coolest of it all: the model of the Hogwarts Castle.
I hate to admit that even after seeing all these incredible, iconic sets and props, I still left the studio tour a bit disgruntled. Why? Because the tour ends with you being forced through the tacky, overpriced gift shop selling cheap, poorly packaged chocolate at unreal prices. As with most things in the UK, the tour was expensive (£30 for an adult ticket) and you’re always trying to be sold something for more than it’s worth (without being allowed to barter for it). But I can’t deny that being able to traverse the sets of Privet Drive, the Great Hall and Diagon Alley, as well as see how Quidditch was really filmed, definitely enhanced rather than ruined, the filmic world of HP. In the end, the magic certainly hasn’t been ruined for me. Oh, and finally my hometown of Watford has something to put next to it’s name!
Have you been on the Harry Potter studio tour? Did it enhance or ruin the magic of HP for you?