I’d heard amazing things about the Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour. But nothing prepared me for our visit** earlier this month, when we were among the first people in the world to enter No. 4 Privet Drive.
To be honest, I was mostly excited for my 10-year-old companion, a huge Harry Potter fan like his mama (he devoured the books and movies). As we boarded the double decker Harry Potter tour bus from Watford Junction station to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, Ezra had one thing on his mind: ‘I wonder if we’ll get to taste some Butterbeer?’ (We did and it tastes like a sort of butterscotch, ginger beer ice cream float – no alcohol!)
The house where Harry Potter grew up before discovering his true self is a regular feature at the Harry Potter tour. But for an exclusive period this half term in London (May 27-Jun 6), No.4 Privet Drive will be open for members of the public to step inside.
We arrived at 6.30pm and the grand reveal was set for 8.45pm, which gave us plenty of time to explore the rest of the tour.
‘Have you been before? It’s brilliant!’ one lady told me. Sure, whatevs, I thought, deliberately lowering my expectations… before the walls fell away, the doors to the Great Halls were flung wide, and we stepped into an enchanted world that had me gasping at every turn.
Entering the Harry Potter Studio Tour is like your final initiation from Muggle to the world of wizardry — except here, the magic is all Muggle born. If none of what I’m saying makes any sense, then excuse me for a minute while I geek out: look, the banqueting tables! Over there, the Sorting Hat! Oh, so that’s how they made the ceiling move!
If you love the stories, you might come over equally tingly at the sight of the Invisibility Cloak; the Gryffindor boys’ dormitory; or the Mirror of Erised, waiting to manifest your deepest desires.
But you don’t have to be a massive Harry Potter dork to be impressed by the level of detail and craftsmanship. From the tapestries that were hand stitched as backdrops, to the 3,000+ wands, each individually carved to represent the personality of its owner. And the stunning creature effects!
There are tour guides to help if you need questions answered, and you can even meet some of the people that make the magic happen. We had a brief chat with special effects maestro John Richardson who showed us a trick or two.
And from May 27-Jun 6, you can see the mechanics of how they sent thousands of letters cascading through the Dursleys’ fireplace.
After a break for refreshments including Butterbeer and delicious Butterbeer ice cream, it was time for our mystery guest — the fantastic Fiona Shaw aka Aunt Petunia — to open No. 4 Privet Drive.
I won’t reveal everything that goes on at the Dursleys’, you really should check it out for yourself!
The Harry Potter Studio Tour is an unmissable experience for any age, although slightly older kids will appreciate it more.
As we wandered about, I felt goosebumps and an occasional lump in my throat at the inventiveness, passion and collaborative energy that’s gone into this project.
I kept thinking about that young woman on a train, getting the spark of an idea and having the creative audacity to follow through. JK Rowling could so easily have tossed it away as a silly thought, but instead her words created a world of its own that continues to thrill and entertain. Storytelling is the ultimate conjuring act.
As a storyteller and creative, and of course a Potterphile, I’ve rarely felt so inspired by one place. I can’t wait to experience the magic again.
Ezra’s Review (age 10)
‘An amazing experience! All the secrets, all the details, learning all the tricks they used to make these incredible movies. Learning about how the characters carried other characters, how they made the house elves and goblins, even some real magic in there — like a pot stirring itself! All the robots used to create the fantastic beasts; discovering how all the paintings were painted; to see that all the books featured in the movies (The Transfiguration etc) were actually written, page after page!
Being the first people to go inside No. 4 Privet Drive! Learning how they made the letters fly through the letterbox and come down through the fireplace. Seeing the sword of Godrick Gryffindor — that was pretty cool. Experiencing Buckbeak bowing at us and that weird baby Voldemort thing breathing and lifting its head. Meeting Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia). Amazing!’
Favourite Thing: ‘Riding on the broomstick (using green screen technology)’
Most surprising: ‘How Hagrid actually had a mask for his action scenes (it’s an animatronic head, worn by a giant rugby player standing on stilts!)’
Cleverest thing: ‘Either Voldemort or Buckbeak or how they made the broomsticks fly.’
Age guidance: ‘I’d recommend this to anyone, I’d say age 6 or 7 plus. I think you have to have read all the books or watched all the movies.’
Scary bits: ‘Voldemort… and the goblin masks in the monster room. You don’t want to be there in the dark!’
No.4 Privet Drive opens its doors to visitors exclusively over the May half term from Fri May 27 to Mon Jun 6; first tours from 9am, last tours from 6.30-6.45pm (closing time 3 hours after last tour); adult tickets from £35/child from £27/family from £107/under 5s FREE but require tickets. Pre-booking essential. Visit Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter, Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, Hertfordshire WD25 7LR (Watford Junction rail).
**We visited as guests of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, many thanks to them for the wonderful experience. Head to Babes about Town on Facebook and our Instagram page for loads more photos and video clips!