I have never understood the concept of collective hysteria quite so acutely as when I cried in front of 100 people at the doors to the Great Hall of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Collective Hysteria is basically the phenomenon that causes girls (mostly) to shriek and faint every time they see One Direction and consequently is something I felt far too mature for. Apparently, no.
Backdrop: The Best Museum in the World
We arrived to the gigantic studio building, just outside of Watford, on a Saturday afternoon for a surprise birthday present from my sister. She had (1st tip) cleverly managed to avoid the month(s) long waiting list by waking up uncharacteristically early on a Sunday morning and getting the re-released cancellation tickets. It was apparently slightly less tense than Glastonbury. We are both fans of Harry Potter naturally: Harry, Ron and Hermione were my age, I know people that cried on their 11th birthday when they hadn’t received their Hogwarts letter, and anyway, Neville Longbottom got really fit. However, neither of us were ever expecting anything quite so magical.
After a short queue where we spotted our spiritual sister, an 8 year old fanatic, the only one (2nd tip) in full costume and who had come with a serious and determined purpose to complete Harry Potter tour to the mantra “no mates on museum days”, we begun the tour. And it was incredible. By far the best museum in the world. There was the Griffindor common room, Hagrid’s hut, Dumbledore’s study, the Mirror of Erised. Just as you think it can’t get any better? Boom, Diagon Alley. Boom, 9 and 3/4s. It is alarming just how many recent bars in East London / Soho have surreptitiously been styled on the Potions laboratory, so if J.K.Rowling starts getting poor she could at least go into a new hipster / edgy speakeasy franchise. Good to know. All the original wands are there, and the snitch and Dobby. There are also loads of other things that you really don’t expect to even exist like Buckbeak and all the silicon masks for the Goblins and house elves. For some reason (based on an absolute zero knowledge of computer animation) we thought more of it would have been completely CGI’d. Actually so much of it exists in hard, 3D copy.
One really amazing feature, for their 15th anniversary of the Philosopher’s Stone, is the introduction of actual members of the prop production team to answer your questions (3rd tip). This is how we learnt that a selection of genuine artists came in to do each of the real oil paintings hung around the school. They are based on members of the crew too so, for instance, one prolific wizard is actually the chief make-up artist. They also painted the majority of headmasters on the wall of Dumbledore’s office as sleeping to save time on the animation of the paintings in post-production: genius. And what a fact.
The best and most astonishing part of the tour is the Hogwarts model, which they used to film basically every shot of the outside of the building that you see. It is massive (the astronomy tower is 8 metres high) BUT it will still blow-your-mind that it is The Hogwarts. It is so beautiful, so intricate, so architecturally incredible that looking at it, along with the epic theme music in the background, might make you emotional for a second time. For the learners amongst you: lots of touchscreens about show you exactly how they did it.
The Crying Incident
So yes, I did cry.
The other children and I (who was pushed) were invited forward because it was our birthdays. (Truly I was over the moon that she’d pushed me). Then the other children and I were allowed to touch the door. We all knew that once we pushed, we would enter The.Great.Hall. Possibly I was the only one of the gang that appreciated the gravity of that. I burst into tears, not out of sadness. I burst into tears out of overwhelming emotion, excitement, glory. Harry Potter and Collective Hysteria, therefore, aren’t just for kids. Even as a fully grown adult you can have the greatest day out in Watford and probably the World and have the humiliation of sobbing / uncontrollably laughing from the shame all at once, in front of a crowd of bamboozled kids.
Go. If you’re a Harry Potter fan it is a must for any trip to London / the UK. It is a great day out that keeps vague adults, proper adults and children alike, entertained. It is a bit expensive for a museum, admittedly, (approx. £35 pp) which is why it’s in the Flash department. But it is a full day of entertainment if you want it to be. There’s no time limit on how long you can stay and you can have food and a beer (or a butterbeer: a complete rip off (4th tip)) at lunch time. We went round in roughly 4 hours and that included queuing a bit for the broomstick riding against the green screen and practicing some spells in front of a mirror. One group was rumoured to have gone round in 13 hours, so if they have a blog, see that for the thorough details. The final tip: don’t expect to buy anything in the shop. It is SO expensive, and everything is available online for much less. A non-magical chocolate frog is not worth £9.