When it comes to birthdays, I am not one for big celebrations where I am the centre of attention. Like anyone, I enjoy receiving presents but feel bad once I realise how much that person has spent on me. Having said that, when begrudgingly deciding on what to do for my birthday, there was one place that came to mind… you guessed it… I went to the Harry Potter Studio tour…. For the fourth time. (Over the course of five years okay, don’t look at me like that!)
Since my last trip, the tour has seen two massive expansions in the form of the Hogwarts Express and the Forbidden Forest. One of the advantages of my birthday being in October meant that an additional “making of the dark arts” event was on so I got to see new costumes on display, Death Eaters roaming around , and the great hall was dressed up for Halloween. Speaking of which, I got to open the doors to the great hall as a birthday treat!
Just like with the books, every time I revisit this place I learn something new or rediscover an extra bit of magic that I’d completely forgotten about. It was disorientating at first as a lot of things have not only moved, but been added too; a rather exciting one for me was a giant tapestry of Hufflepuff which I assume hung from the Qudditch towers during the games. A member of staff did a demonstration on how Fang slobber, Troll snot and unicorn blood were made for the film which was equally brilliant and disgusting. It was nice to visit old favourite sets such as The Burrow but nothing could have prepared me for how terrifying the Forbidden Forest was going to be.
I am not good with the dark and anything to do with spiders (when I was a kid I used to fast-forward my VHS tape through both the forest and Chamber of Secrets sections to the triumphant end). So, with wand in hand, I ventured into the part of the tour with thunder, lightning and spiders descending from the ceiling. But all the panic and horror I experienced was worth it to come out of the side and see the Hogwarts Express.
I didn’t know what to expect when I turned the corner, but I didn’t plan on stepping out onto a fully rebuilt Platform 9 & ¾. It was one of the most beautiful and overwhelming sights I saw all day. There was the opportunity to go on-board and see the carriages redecorated for each of the films, along with getting to see the “nineteen years later” costumes which made me just a tad emotional.
After that, it was a quick stop at the Backlot Café for lunch, a cup of Butterbeer and avoiding some prowling Death Eaters, before venturing inside Privet Drive to see a living room full of Hogwarts letters for Harry! (A rare treat as it wasn’t open to go inside on all of my previous trips)
Then I moved on to the second sound stage which is dedicated moreso to the concept art and the animatronic which helps bring together all the magic we see on screen. It can be easy to rush through this area as it’s not as overwhelming as the first part of the tour but I still think you can appreciate it for the secrets it holds. The beautiful thing about it is that even when you know how certain things are put together, it doesn’t ruin any part of the films, if anything it makes you value the work that went into them even more.
There are many magical reveals in the latter part of the tour but a personal favourite of mine is Diagon Alley. It continues to baffle me just how much detail is added to the shop windows when you barely see them in the films there so much artistry added into every part of this set and I really had to take a moment to step back and realise that I was standing on a film set and not actually on a wizarding shopping high street.
As I keep saying (almost like a stuck record at this point), I can never really find the words to explain what the world of Harry Potter means to me, and I can’t pinpoint why this story has continued to stick with me many years out of childhood. But something about being in this place fills me with this warm, cosy feeling. I lose myself completely in this world and don’t feel odd for running around in a Hufflepuff jumper while waving a wand. I just feel at home. And I won’t stop at four times. There will definitely be more trips and I can’t wait to see what other magic they decide to add in the future.
Oh.. and it was confirmed that Warner Brothers were filming Fantastic Beasts 2 just next door!