When I heard a few years ago that the Warner Bros Studio’s in Leavesden, where they made the Harry Potter films, were opening the doors to the public as a tour, I thought it was amazing and I, for one, would definitely be going! I love the Harry Potter books and films, and my Teen, who is 15 has literally grown up with them. Although he was too young to see the first film at the cinema (he would’ve been around 3 years old at the time), we watched it on DVD and went to see most of the subsequent films at the cinema together when they were released, if he was old enough!
Going to see the final film, The Deathly Hallows part 2, together, was emotional if I’m being honest. The movie itself was incredible but watching it with my son who was by then, 13 years old, was special. It was like we had experienced the phenomenon that was Harry Potter together, just the two of us and I love that… and it felt like the end of an era as the film finished.
Being able to go and see where all the films were made would be amazing. The Leavesden Studios, as it was back at the beginning before Warner Bros bought it, was an unused aircraft hangar until nearby Pinewood studios used it to film James Bond Goldeneye, because they hadn’t enough space themselves. It was then used for a number of productions before Warner Bros found it to base Harry Potter. It wasn’t until 2010 that they finally purchased the site for good as a permanent European base. The studios are literally 10 minutes from where we live and I remember the filming going on there in the early days. Certain sets, like the quidditch stadium were just visible in the distance from the road as I drove past.
I couldn’t wait to take Teen, it was something he and I would really appreciate. So can you believe we hadn’t been until this week?!
Don’t ask why…. it’s just one of those things we kept saying we’d do but never got round to! Crazy really! But actually, I think it was fate that we didn’t go until now… because luckily for us, I was offered an exclusive invite to attend the press night of the unveiling of a brand new feature of the tour.. The Dark Arts!
In it’s first permanent fixture since opening, The Dark Arts is a new section devoted to some of the more sinister aspects of the films. It will showcase some never before seen props, including Horcruxes and dark wizarding artefacts, along with new costumes and scene sets.
I couldn’t wait! Excited just doesn’t cover it. I decided to take Teen (obviously) and his lovely girlfriend who is a huge fan too. My daughter has been already (lucky thing), she went with her class last year for a school trip, OH hasn’t seen many of the films and my twins are too young so it was just the three of us that were eagerly anticipating what lay ahead!
Teen and girlfriend outside, just about to go in!
Once in, we were treated to some pre-tour drinks and nibbles. There were some Death Eaters (new to the tour) guarding the entrance to the tour and one took a shine to Teens girlfriend who was scared of him! Smelling her fear, he kept coming up trying to intimidate her… so I whipped out this wand… a gift from the event organisers as a pre-tour taster! That showed him!
My gorgeous gift, a Tom Riddle notebook and fab wand!
Once the Death Eaters left and we were allowed through, we were led to a cinema room where we watched a short film about the new Dark Arts feature. The actors who played Harry, Ron and Hermione… Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, talked us through the new additions and shared their experiences of life growing up right there, at the Warner Bros studio’s, where they spent most of their childhood, making the eight films. It was evident how much the place meant to them, the emotion when they spoke of how it was a place of not only filming, but also where they played and studied. Because don’t forget, these child actors filmed the Harry Potter series throughout all their GCSE years and beyond. Right here was where they loved to be. The stuidos became their home from home, the cast and crew became their family. There were lots of clips of behind the scenes footage showing the young actors having fun during filming and also of how some of the iconic scenes in the movies were shot. It was truly fascinating. I could’ve watched hours of this!
The tour began once the cinema screen lifted to reveal these magnificent doors…..
which opened into the Great Hall…..
The Great Hall
It was breathtaking. Honestly. I felt completely awestruck being there… in the ACTUAL Great Hall, which featured in so many scenes. It was surreal, utterly overwhelming. There was so much to see and take in. All the details that our tour guide was offering were fascinating, like the real stone flooring that they put in at the start, knowing that the set would need materials to last from the wear and tear it would undergo throughout the years of filming. The food that in the early films was real, but was fake in the later instalments because it simply went off too quickly.
There were costumes on display, the real clothes that the actors wore, all the uniforms from each House at Hogwarts… Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin… and of course of all the Hogwarts teachers, Dumbledore, Snape, Hagrid etc.
From the Great Hall we were led through various sets from the films as well as being able to see how lots of the creatures and monsters from the films were made. We were treated to explanations of some of the tricks that were used to create certain characters and bring the stories to life, which was a massive challenge for the film makers.
Some of the iconic film sets: Harry Potter’s Gryffindor dormitory, Professor Dumbledore’s office, the potions classroom and the Gryffindor common room
The famous Mirror of Erised
Heading through we arrived at the new Dark Arts section where the new permanent features are, the main one being this one (below)… Malfoy Manor. The old fireplace in the orginal tour has been expanded to show the full set. The headquarters of Lord Voldemort’s followers, the Death Easters in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, it includes the long, grand table around which Bellatrix Lestrange, the Malfoy family, the Death Eaters and Voldermort sat. A life like model of Voldemorts 20ft snake and Muggle Studies teacher Charity Burbage stranded above, the feature is rather creepy!
Another new feature is the full on Borgin and Burkes store down Knackturn Alley, which Harry stumbles upon in The Chamber of Secrets. It showcases a variety of never before seen artefacts and props up close.
Some of the weird and wonderful artefacts and props, including the Death Eaters masks!
As well as the scarier props, they have also added to the Ministry of Magic set and included Dolores Umbridge’s office. This new part of the tour is sure to give it an extra dimension and bring fans of the later, darker films some of their favourite bits. All the props are so intricate and interesting, it’s quite possible to spend hours wandering around and studying all of it!
Because this was a press night, there were special refreshments provided in the way of smoking drinks and creepy nibbles. There were also some celebrities present including Max from Eastenders (Jake Wood), Jonathan Ross, Gaby Roslin, Amanda Holden, Connor Maynard and Janine from Easters! I could resist a couple of pics…..
A group photo with the very lovely Amanda Holden and Gaby Roslin, smokey drinks and Teens Girlfriend having a pic with Connor Manynard!!
More fantastic parts of the tour including Daigon Alley and Privet Drive. Plus the three decker bus and Butterbeer testing!
This scale model of Hogwarts was used for all the sweeping ,outdoor shots of the school. The details are extraordinary. We spent a long time here. It truly is beautiful, stunning!
As part of the tour, there is the chance to learn how to use a wand and try out the green screen broom flying experience! You are invited to don a special Hogwarts cape, climb onto a broomstick and simulate flying through some of the fantastic scenes from the movie! This is lots of fun and I recommend you give this a go when you visit… I couldn’t leave without including my pics…
The huge gift shop at the Studio’s has anything and everything you could ever want to buy in relation to the tour and the films. Remember to take lots of spending money The shop is actually open to the public without having to do the tour so if there was something you might like to buy a fan for their birthday or Christmas, then why not pop along any time? There’s an extensive clothing range featuring all the costumes, there’s wands, cuddly toys and other characters, there’s even a sweet shop area where you can buy all the weird and wonderful concoctions! We spent a while in the gift shop, there’s just so much to see!
The Dark Arts feature is officially open right now, just in time for Halloween! A visit to the Warner Bros Harry Potter studio tour is more than worth it and thoroughly recommended. We have a brilliant time. In fact we didn’t want to leave!