For me, Harry Potter came along at the wrong time.
The first book came out in June 1997, just as I was finishing university. I wasn’t reading anything – too busy panicking about what came next – let alone a book initially aimed at children by an unknown author.
From there, real life took over and by the time it slowed down, the series was probably four books in and, while I thought what J K Rowling had managed in terms of getting all sorts of people into reading was astounding, they still sort of passed me by.
I’m sure, as they are the best selling book series IN HISTORY, she is not crying over the fact that I have never read them. I always meant to but so many books, so little time…
Along came Freya.
Mark has always been a huge HP fan and I think one of the things he most looked forward to in becoming a parent was introducing Freya to the boy wizard.
It didn’t take much effort. After one film, she was hooked. I haven’t let her watch them all yet because I think some of the later ones, as Harry grows, get a bit darker but she likes repeating the ones she is allowed. Mark also bought her a beautifully illustrated version of the first book, which they are reading together, and with wands, dolls, costumes and stationery she has plenty to keep her happy.
She even asked for a HP themed birthday cake for her family birthday party this year (my mum decorated her conservatory and Mark and I and all her grandparents dressed as witches and wizards too). Instead of a party with her friends, we decided to take her somewhere we knew she would love – The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour.
I will just say, my photos don’t do it justice.
Originally, as the tickets aren’t cheap (£45 per adults and £37 for five – 15s this year), I wasn’t going to go with them but, as we managed to get in on her birthday, we decided I had to be there for the surprise.
She fell asleep in the car on the short drive from St Albans, where we had an Airbnb, to Watford, and when we arrived, her little face was a picture of confusion.
“It’s Harry Potter!” She shouted when she saw the huge pictures on the outside of the building, followed by: “I don’t know what this is!”
Once explained she started jumping up and down and said it was her best birthday ever, even though we were still in the car park.
What is it?
If you didn’t already know, it’s the actual studio where they filmed the Harry Potter movies over 10 years. What you get to see are the carefully curated sets, costumes and props along with artwork and behind the scenes SFX and VFX. I think even non-fans will find it fascinating – I know I did.
It’s a timed entry (ours was 3.30pm) but it was all very slick and smooth on the day we went. You stay as a group for the first part but then you can wander on your own.
Right at the start there’s a proper wow moment (no spoilers) and several more throughout. I say that as someone who still doesn’t know all the ins and outs of HP.
As it was Freya’s birthday she got to open the doors to the Great Hall. The tour could have ended there and she would have been happy enough but there was so much more to come.
A lot of it is quite interactive. There are guides to talk to (one in particular was lovely with Freya, chatting and showing her wigs worn by different people and even a little box of Harry’s scars), buttons to push, brooms to ride, magic to learn and many, many photos ops.
We were there for three hours (not counting the 30 minutes they spent in the shop at the end while I had a hot chocolate in the cafe). I know people often spend much longer but it was getting towards her bedtime and she’d been up early too. Even though she was tired she was still so excited by everything. Because she was just six, there wasn’t a lot of patience for reading about things but that was ok. A lot of it was visual.
She’s already asked if we can go back one day and I think I would, especially when she’s older and can take more in. They also add new things all the time. Gringotts Wizarding Bank was new this year and it was amazing.
The level of detail in everything was one of the things that most impressed me.
We stopped in the cafe midway through and had some tea (just sandwiches and snacks) and it was nice to have a bit of a rest before carrying on. There was a huge queue of people wanting to try Butterbeer so we gave that a miss.
What do actual fans think?
Freya said: “I loved it all. I want to go again and again.”
Mark said: “When I saw how much the tickets were, I thought ‘there’s no way it’s going to be worth this much’ but, having seen what they have and how much there was to do, I actually thought it was well worth it for anyone who has an interest in Harry Potter. I would definitely go again.”
Are you a Harry Potter fan? Have you been on the tour? What did you think?