For years and years, I have written about Harry Potter, the books, the films, the festivals, and the stars and since 2012 I’ve been asked repeatedly to visit the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter in the Leavesden Film Studios near Watford, England, where the Harry Potter films were made. I would have loved to go already back then, but having a rare spine disease and a badly functioning artificial knee, I can’t move without the aid of crutches and very strong pain killers. Even 3 x surgery within the last four years hasn’t improved my situation, so travelling to England seemed impossible.
On the other hand, after my last unsuccessful operation, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact, that I am never going to be well again and if I want to see and do the things I dream of, I have to do them with crutches, painkillers and a lot of aid and pre-planned resting-time. Still, it was quite daunting, as the last time I tried to go on a trip, which was just for a weekend with my daughter to Hamburg, Germany, in 2015, my left knee collapsed under me and I had to have surgery once more to replace my partial knee prosthesis with a full prosthesis. Anyway, with the UK on the brink of leaving the EU, I thought that I’d better get to London now as in a few years, who knows how easy it is going to be for us EU citizens to visit our dear UK friends, who have sadly turned their backs on us?
Going to England turned out to be very difficult already, when you are disabled. Before I got knee problems back in 2013, nobody cared that I occasionally needed a stick to walk or that I had to take painkillers, but this time I had to call the British Embassy in Denmark to get help. As the Brits are not part of the Schengen Area, I now suddenly needed a signed medical certificate saying that I needed my medication and of course such a certificate costs money. Furthermore, I had to contact the airports and airline to get permission to bring my crutches and where the Danish Kastrup Airport and the Scandinavian Airline were okay with it, Heathrow in London wanted a signed medical certificate saying that I needed my crutches to walk and that cost money too! I guess it is safe to say that my travelling days to the UK are over, as it has become too expensive. And what’s next? Visas perhaps, when Brexit is fully implemented?
Oh, well. My daughter and I flew to England on July 31st and no one in Heathrow wanted to see my certificates after all! I had already received Oyster Cards from Visit Britain’s online shop, so we took the Tube directly to Earl’s Court where our hotel was situated just 100 m from the station.
Usually I live in Bayswater when in London, or sometimes in South Kensington, but when we booked hotels four months ago, there were no rooms available. Instead we ended up in an old hotel in Earl’s Court Square, but I won’t write its name here as I can’t recommend it. It was very small, very hot and really, really lousy. Luckily it was only for five nights!
We didn’t do anything in particular the first day except get settled and go out for pizzas in the evening, and the next day I stayed at the hotel to recover from the strain of travelling the day before. While I relaxed, my daughter met up with her friend and fellow YouTuber Peter Noic. They spent the entire day together, but she took a couple of hours off for her and me to go to my two favourite spots in London: Kensington Gardens and the pub The Swan at Lancaster Gate. When in London, I always visit the Italian Gardens and say hello to the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens (after all I’m a Ph.D. in Peter Pan!), and afterwards we had a coke in the pub. Then it was back at the hotel for me, while my daughter went out with her friend for the evening.
On the third day, Wednesday the 2nd of August, it was finally time to go to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter (what an awful and awfully long name!). It was the only day that we had a bit of rain while in London, but it didn’t matter as most of the tour was inside.
We had tickets to the tour through Golden Tours London, which provides you with a bus ride to and from the studio as well as a fairly speedy entrance and three hours at the studios. The bus leaves from INSIDE of the Fountain Square building across from Victoria Station in London, so we had a hard time finding it, but when we did, it was a nice double-decker bus that screened Harry Potter films all the way from London to Watford. As the trip only lasted fifty minutes and not two hours like it said on the ticket, we only got to see the middle part of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”. We didn’t complain, though, as we had more time at the Studio Tour this way.
I’m not going to write much about the tour here, as I plan to make a proper review of it sometime soon, but I must admit that I was a bit disappointed. It started out well, though, as we were let in about a hundred people at a time to first watch two short films in two different rooms, telling about the Harry Potter phenomenon and of the Studio Tour as such. After that we were let into the Great Hall where we were only allowed to stay for a few minutes, before we were bundled off into the rest of the tour, where we could walk around freely and see things in our own pace.
When I say, that I was a bit disappointed, it’s not because there is not enough to see or do. There is. There are loads of costumes and props and even a few sets, but it is all helter-skelter, somehow, and arranged a bit at random. I guess what I miss is the feeling of being on set instead of just seeing Hermoine’s gown from the Yule Ball or Dumbledore’s Pensive tucked away in a cupboard. I only got the “on set” feeling three times during the tour and that was in the Great Hall, in the Forbidden Forrest and in Diagon Alley. I somehow don’t think that is quite enough, but I suspect that I was only expecting too much, having waited so many years to be able to go.
Anyway, especially the Forbidden Forrest and Diagon Alley are great along with the Special Effects/Creature Effects area and the big, beautiful Hogwarts Castle model. Butterbeer is available at the Backlot Café, a large, ugly, and cold cafeteria-area halfway through the tour with a view of the Knight Bus and Privet Drive. I wonder why this area is so clinical and ugly. especially as it is the only one big enough to seat the many visitors, as the Studio Café in the lobby is quickly filled up due to its size.
I also found the three giftshops on the premises weird, because you couldn’t buy postcards or a souvenir guidebook or anything about the tour, only Harry Potter merchandise. I bought a wand for my collection, but nothing else although I had wanted a Ravenclaw scarf and some WWW sweets. Unfortunately, the giftshops only sell Honeyduke’s sweets and all their Ravenclaw scarves are blue and silver, although the colours of Ravenclaw are blue and bronze.
Oh, well, we got back to the bus in time, but we could easily have used an extra hour or more in the studio tour buildings. On the other hand, it was great to relax on the bus ride back to London, although they screened the same part of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” as on our way out.
The fourth day in London, I wanted to take it easy as both my knees had started acting up, especially the good one! My daughter and I went to Chinatown for lunch, but after that my daughter met up with a female friend who lives in London, while I rested in the hotel room.
In the evening, I was back on my feet, though, as I had tickets to Enda Walsh’s play “Disco Pigs” at Trafalgar Studios (Studio 2), directed by John Haidar and with Colin Campbell and Evanna Lynch (yes, Luna Lovegood form Harry Potter) as Pig and Runt, the only two actors on stage.
Trafalgar Studio 2 is a small venue with around a hundred seats and the actors acting directly on the floor in front of you. The seats are almost “love-seats” as you are seated two and two on the same seat and it is all very nice and cosy.
The same can’t be said for the play. It is anything but cosy, telling the violent story of the boy Darren (Pig) and the girl Sinéad (Runt), who grow up as next-door-neighbours in a world of their own, where they only communicate with people around them through violence. Of course, things get out of control, eventually.
I found the play brilliant, both Campbell and Lynch acting their butts off. They were really impressive, both of them, and had the audience laughing and crying, shocking us, teasing us and even making us somehow sympathise with Pig and Runt, who after all are not particularly pleasant persons.
The play as such I found very Irish/British, and I don’t mean because the actors talk Irish all the time, but because the plot of “Disco Pigs” has always made me think that in any other country, a boy and a girl living in their own world would take another direction – ANY other direction – than the Clockwork Orange one!
When that is said, I really enjoyed the play and the very helpful staff who let me ride the staff lift to the lower floor where Studio 2 is situated! A big thank you to you all!
On our way from the theatre to the Tube station, we passed The Golden Jubilee Bridges and we got some really great evening shots of Big Ben and London Eye from there. It was truly a magical night.
On our fifth and last day in London, we went to Madame Tussaud’s as my daughter loves wax museums. I hadn’t been there since 1988, so it had changed a lot and had become bigger and better. We enjoyed meeting the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Johnny Depp, Jennifer Lawrence, Queen Victoria, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Freddie Mercury, the Beatles, Barack Obama and Angela Merkel to mention a few. I loved that we were able to sit down twice during the visit, first in the wonderful “Spirit of London”-ride and then in the 4D movie theatre where we watched Marvel’s Super Heroes battle Dr. Doom. Luckily, the theatre had seats for disabled, so I could see the film in 3D without the violent 4D blows to my back. My daughter suffered for days!
At noon, we had a quick look at 221B Baker Street before we had dinner at the Korean Bibimbab Cafe in Bloomsbury. It was a nice little place and the food was wonderful. We then went clothes shopping mainly for my daughter as everything is so much cheaper in England than in Denmark and I was thankful that the clothes store had benches for tired moms, while their teenage daughters binge shopped!
We went back to the hotel to relax, before going to The Swan in the evening for pub grub, live music, and a glass of wine. What a lovely way to end our trip to London!
The following day we flew back home and our flight was only an hour delayed, which is okay for Heathrow (the last time, I was there, my flight was delayed with eight hours!). Once again nobody wanted to see my expensive certificates, so that was just money out the window.
Back home I haven’t been able to stand on my “good” leg without taking two new kinds of painkillers on top of the old ones, but it is totally worth it. Everyone, also the disabled, needs to get away and experience new things once in a while to maintain their mental health and it sure did me a lot of good!
P.S. If you want to see my daughter’s London vlog, here’s the link:Tea Janina