A GlassBox Media member of staff went to visit what is formerly Leavesden Aerodrome built shortly after WWII. Upon arrival, there is little to suggest of the magic and fantasy synonymous with the best selling set of the Harry Potter books and films known all over the world.
Housed in J and K named stages – we are told this is coincidence – one is struck by how open and isolated it feels standing outside the entrance. The front of the building is adorned by pictures from the films but in all honesty its odd that you are on the outskirts of a housing estate.
You do however begin to feel about 12 years old and you have just had the mother load of Christmas presents.
Standing in the reception area, there are the usual amenities found at attractions. Cafe, cloakroom, loos, gift shop. High above you on the walls hang portraits of Harry, Voldemort, Sirius Black to name a few each of them taken at the very start of the Harry Potter films, so each of the main cast are merely 11 years old.
After tailing round the queue, past the cupboard under the stairs! You are taken into a small cinema area home to all the film posters from around the world. That in itself is pretty special as they are not the same in each country. Next you are greeted by Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint, sadly not in person but on screen. Here they talk of their journey from 11 years old through to the current day with lots of behind the scenes clips and film footage, while the Harry Potter soundtrack is playing.
Being a big fan myself you can’t but help feel emotional looking back at some of the wonderful film moments along with the more private and intimate moments off camera. The young actors getting birthday cakes and the tears and laughter they share with not just the older actors but the behind the scenes workers.
After the movie, there is a surprise which any fan will love, but I’m not going to ruin that!
This is where the organisers have been clever. So far the tour has been timed and structured. Now you are free to leave the Great Hall and move into the next part of the tour where you can take as much time as you like.
The staggering of entrances of each tour group should mean you are never too rushed or cramped as can be the case for so many attractions. Apparently on a really busy day they get up to 5,000 people through the doors, but it never felt like that at all. Every one who works there are keen to answer any questions, some of them acted in the films and it is a real treat to hear their stories first hand, so do talk to them.
You need the flexibility in time, as there is so much to see. Make sure that you have taken a spare set of batteries for your camera as you will not be able to stop taking photos!
It is also highly recommended by me! That you buy the audio tour as the videos you get to watch on there ARE NOT displayed throughout the tour. You also get superb commentary by Mr Draco himself (Tom Felton) who gives you lots on inside information which adds to what is on the display boards. I learnt more from the Audio Tour than I did off the diplays.
Diagonal Alley? The set certainly doesn’t disappoint. As you walk from The Creature Shop, where you are treated to all the animatronics heads and full face masks, as well as all the magical creatures, you step out and into Diagonal Alley, which we first encounter in Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone and is so central to the wizarding world.
Gringotts Bank, Ollivander’s Wand Shop, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes are all there. The lights change constantly from day and night.
The atmosphere really changes and if you were alone you would feel the eeriness encountered when the lights change to night. There is something very real when you are here as though you have arrived through the Leaky Cauldron and about to pick out your first wand or shop for Quidditch equipment. It is the first time that you feel that you have been put into Harry Potter’s world and it feels very strange for a 30yr old to say that, but it was amazing. It’s not very often you step into a film.
The gallery of detailed blueprints ranging from Dumbledore’s chair in his office to Hogwarts and The Burrow are found in the artists room. The walls are adorned with breathtaking paintings and drawings of so many of the scenes, animals and buildings we have grown with through the adventures. These are produced by the concept artists and is another display of the high level of skill these people in their field have. Stand and study them as you will never see them any where else and they are simply stunning. You would want them on your walls at home I promise.
I have missed a bit out here as it will simply ruin the surprise. But just before arriving at the gift shop, you are bought into a room which looks like it aught to be Olivanders shop. It is in fact an amazing tribute to everyone who worked on the films. Each of the 4,000 boxes were made by hand and labeld with actors, caterers, runners, make up staff, directors etc etc. No one is ‘higher’ than another they simply have been put on the shelves.
The tour guide in the room can point out where all your favourite characters are and some you don’t know. He is well worth talking to as he knows everything! I tried tricking him by asking where the cat box is but no luck he showed me the box which names the Feline’s who played, Millicent Bulstodes Cat, Mrs Norris Filch’s cat, Mrs Figgs cats, Dolores Umbridge Persian cat, Crookshanks Hermionies cat and finally the silver tabby which Professor McGonagall turns into. This is a very fitting tribute to all who worked on the films.
When you read the books your imagination runs away with you. The films on the whole do not contain all of the story in the books, but they certainly do do the books justice. Having taken part in the tour I have not left there thinking that I now know how they make it so it looses their magic, in fact quite the opposite. Harry Potter and the magic continues through all the films growing up and losing innocence in conjunction with our heroes.
Footnote: I do recommend that you do not take children who are very young. It is best to let them keep their imagination. It will scar them for life when they find out about Hagrid! And some of the other special FX.
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