Like music, the Internet and big hair, Harry Potter has been a defining part of my existence for as long as I care to remember.
My earliest Potter memory is of sitting on a tiny caravan bed, next to my sister, as my dad read the name of book one, chapter one: "The Boy Who Lived". My initial reaction was an eight-year-old's equivalent of "you’ve got to be f****** kidding me", but by chapter two, I was hooked.
The years since then have seen the arrival of another six fantastic books, eight alright films and one dreadful themed club night at my student union. I have grown up alongside Harry. When he finally got off with the recently widowed Cho Chang, my feelings were of recognition and solidarity as she began to cry hysterically.
The world and people of the Harry Potter series were real to me. When I was seventeen, I was lucky enough to meet Ron in the VIP area of V Festival in Chelmsford. In a generation defining moment for comedy, I shouted "Ron Weasley" at a small ginger guy, which was all very funny, until it turned out that it actually was Ron Weasley. It was obvious that I wasn’t the only one who had enjoyed a drink that night, as Ron kept insisting we called him "Rupert".
When I moved to London, one of the first things I did was book tickets to the Harry Potter studio tour. Sadly, my intended tour partner dropped out at the last minute by cunningly getting hospitalised with food poisoning. Despite my enormous popularity, neither of my other two friends were available. I decided to go it alone.
I made it onto the train and sat down at a table with three women in their mid-30s. They too were on the way to Harry Potter World. I wondered briefly whether to ask them if I could join their group, but decided the social stigma attached to walking around the studio tour alone was probably less severe than the stigma attached to trying to talk to a stranger in London.
After a tube, train, shuttle bus and nine-mile queue, I made it through the doors of the tour and was greeted by a short film and some "banter" from Harry, Ron and Hermione, before the screen lifted up to reveal the doors of the Great Hall. An enthusiastic Australian woman pointed out a few details, such as the fact that (spoiler alert) the ceiling was not actually enchanted to look like the night sky, but was really just a lightning rig.
The rest of the tour was a free-for-all. Sets, costumes and props lined the walls, alongside the occasional screen showing interviews with the directors and producers. It is an impressive place, and fascinating for anyone interested in film, even when dismissing the Harry Potter elements. After meandering round for a bit, peeking into the Gryffindor common room and Weasley’s kitchen, there was the opportunity to have a photo taken in one of eight green screen booths.
There was a television outside each booth, showing a live action image of the person inside flying along on their broom. Seven out of eight screens showed a child, laughing away whilst their parents cheered them on. The eighth screen showed me, pretending to have fun, so that the woman taking the photos would hate me slightly less than she so obviously did.
After tiring myself out on the broom, I handed in my cloak and went outside for a pint of Butterbeer and a magical cigarette. Sadly, Butterbeer only came in very small plastic cups. Somewhat surprisingly however, it was absolutely delicious.
After wetting my whistle on Privet Drive, I went through a big area focusing on image manipulation and design, featuring a moving model of Buckbeak. After this came the most striking part of the tour, the concept art. Most of it was fantastic and almost all was "never seen before". As impressive as the sets had been, the art was most interesting in showing the creative process and the imagination behind what is shown on screen.
By the time I arrived at the 50” model of Hogwarts and 16,000 individually painted wand boxes, I was starting to feel the loneliness. A cursory look around the gift shop revealed a house jumper to cost £75. For that price, I could have gone around the tour another two times and still had enough left over to just about afford a packet of crisps from the refreshments van.
If you dream of seeing Harry’s world, the chances are that you don’t really want to see a set designer’s interpretation, but your own. The studio tours are great for what they are, but what they are is a glimpse behind the scenes of a film set, not the wizarding world.
The truth is, if you didn’t get a letter through your door on your eleventh birthday, the closest you can really get to experiencing the magic is to lose yourself in the seven books. It’s not easy being a muggle.
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