In the late 1990s a book was published that transformed my generation.
A book that bought with it friendship, magic, heroics and bad guys. It was a classic children’s book that resonated across the world. Harry Potter became a phenomenon. While never a die hard fan – I left the midnight queuing and screaming outside of of theatre screenings to others- I was part of the hysteria that rose up around Hogwarts and all in it. I devoured all the books: heafty, weighty tombs (especially as the series went on) that dwarfed my child hands. I was 14, the only book I’d ever seen that big was my Illustrated Children’s Bible that took up half the bottom shelf of my bookcase. The Goblet of Fire was mammoth, but it’s enormity was exciting rather than ominous as it meant there was just more of Harry’s world- more of Diagon Alley, more of Hogwarts, more of Snape, of Quidditch, and of Bertie Botts every flavoured beans to absorb. The story was important – obviously – but I just loved the escapism that Rowling allowed- creating a world so close to the one we knew, but one that was more exciting, more intriguing and full of concepts that delighted children around the world. Things like prefects bathrooms and the potential to run hundreds of taps; school outings to Hogsmede- which was always snowy- and access to wonderful, beautiful and crazy animals. As a history geek, and a bit if a historical romantic, who grew up not far from Durham and Alnwick (and went to university in Glasgow entirely because someone told me it looked like Hogwarts) the school itself, with it’s turrets and towers, moving staircases and hidden room seemed like the best place on earth to go to school. Plus- it was a boarding school, which is a classic prerequisite of any good children’s book- Malory Towers, What Katy Did, even the Famous Five went to boarding school.
Imagine my utter delight then, on Christmas morning 2013 when an owl soared across the present strewn room to land a brown envelope in my lap. Inside the envelope were tickets to the home of Harry Potter, the heart of the magic: the Warner Brothers Studio in Leavesden. It took us almost a year, but eventually we found a weekend to make the trip, and man were we excited. We precede the tour with a couple of days in Oxford, which as luck would have it, features in the film series over the years. Most impressive was the access the movie garnered to the Bodlien Library, which is more familiar as the scene where Harry, Ron and Hermione searched for answers to things like the Philosophers Stone and how to breath underwater. The tour though, in the glamorous Watford suburb, houses the actual dressed sets, the Great Hall, Hagrid’s Hut, Dumbledore’s Office and my favourite- the Gryffindor Common Room. Then there’s the models, the props, the revelations, the costumes, the broomsticks, the insights: everything I’d hoped for and more. A colleague asked me if I’d enjoyed it and then stopped me before I even had chance to answer, saying the the way my face had just lit up like an eight year olds made it quite clear.
Which is why I suggest, if you’ve got the slightest interest in Harry Potter – go. It’s incredible. We spent five hours there and loved every minute of it. It truly is a wonderful, magical experience.