I had the great fortune to get tickets to the very exclusive “Christmas Dinner in the Great Hall” at Hogwarts, on the Harry Potter movie set outside of London, and I can say without hesitation that it was worth the price of flying across the pond to attend!
For those of you who do not want to read my long post here, go directly to the bottom for the slideshow of pictures I took this enchanted evening.
The Harry Potter studio tour at Leavesden, outside of London, is already a pilgrimage for Harry Potter fans and is something you need advance tickets for because it sells out on a consistent basis.
Once a year, Warner Bros. offers a Christmas dinner on the actual Hogwarts Great Hall set, which is decorated exactly as the Yule Ball, featured in the fourth film “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”.
As the regular tour goers were leaving the studio, we were just arriving at 6pm for the champagne and canapes reception for the lucky 250 guests who were going to spend the evening at Leavesden. All 250 of us Potterheads were as bubbly as the glasses of libation we were holding, excitedly telling each other how far we traveled to attend this special event. Some people were dressed in black tie, some in character (a young woman dressed EXACTLY as Hermione at the Yule ball in the movie) and also in cocktail attire.
First we watched a short film narrated by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, welcoming us to Leavesden Studio and talking about how this was really home for them, as they literally grew up on the sets here.
Some of the movie scenes, particularly for the very first movie, were shot on location in London but when it was clear there would be a collection of movies spanning years of production, Warner Bros built a huge studio with multiple permanent sets at Leavesden, outside of London, which they meticulously maintained through all the movie productions and now as a major tourist attraction.
After the short film, we were ushered into the Hogwarts Great Hall to find our dinner tables and seats, and it reminded me of the first time I went to Versailles and entered the Hall of Mirrors, with everyone holding up cameras and phones to film. The Great Hall wad decorated for the Yule Ball, it was brilliant.
Dinner in the Great Hall Menu
Chicken liver pate with apple, quince and toasted brioche or Wookey Hole cheddar souffle
Ballotine of roasted Norfolk turkey stuffed with cranberry, pistachio and pork, with roasted potatoes and honey-roasted root vegetables
Dessert bowls served on Platform 9 3/4
Christmas pudding and brandy sauce and caramelized orange
Chocolate and clementine bavarois with Irish Crème Chantilly and praline tuile
Gingerbread and blueberry trifle with a stem ginger sable
After dinner, we were invited to make our own way through the entire studio tour; with only 250 guests present, it was glorious to be able to look at sets of the boy’s dormitory room, Dumbledore’s office, Hagrid’s Hut, the Potions Classroom, walk through the Hogwarts Express where they filmed all the interior train scenes, and walk Diagon Alley and more, without having a thousand people in front or pushing behind you.
We had stops at the green screen area for The Daily Prophet newspaper “Wanted” pictures, and for mounting Quidditch brooms to make our own videos of us soaring high over Hogwarts, great fun.
To see upclose the artistry that it took to make these books come to life on the big screen was truly amazing…..did you know that the memory cabinet in Dumbledore’s office contains nearly 900 real glass vials, each with a handwritten label? Same with the over 950 glass jars of oddities in the Potions classroom, which include baked animal bones from a local butchers shop!
The Chamber of Secrets is a real, fully functional door…..artists cast snakes in resin molds and painted them before they were each individually mounted. And all those talking portraits lining the moving staircases? Some of them are portraits of the producers and various crew members!
Walking along Diagon Alley, whose design was influenced by the work of Charles Dickens, was truly special…..seeing Gringott’s Bank entrance up close and of course the Puking Pastilles outside of Weasley’s! And Ollivander’s Wand Shop–the art department team actually made 17,000 individually-labelled wand boxes during filming. There were boxes labeled for the over 4,000 production people who worked on the films, a beautiful and enduring gesture of appreciation.
It WAS scary walking into the Forbidden Forest and Aragon’s lair….Aragon has a leg span of over 18 feet and each hair, EACH HAIR, was individually inserted by hand using a special needle. It took 15 people to operate the animatronic Aragon! Time and again, I was amazed by the creativity and artistry on display, not to mention the sheer nostalgia of it all.
The costumes are all here, including Ron’s hilarious rug and lace tux-cape he wore to the Yule ball and the fancy BeauxBatons’ French Blue uniforms with their iconic pointed hats designed by famous milliner Philip Treacy, the Quidditch uniforms, even the “19 Years Later” real-clothes ‘costumes’ of the adult, married Harry and Ginny and Ron and Hermione and their children.
We could have spent hours reading and watching about all the special effects to make Dobbie come alive, the goblins, Professor Lupin’s werewolf self, the animatronic Hagrid head (there is such a thing), the glowing Patronus, etc etc but we had to get refreshed with some Butterbeer before heading outside, yes outside, to see the double-decker Knight Bus, some of the chess pieces, and 4 Privet Drive, which is a real house!
One of the last features of the tour is the giant Hogwarts model that was used from the first film on, for shooting the exterior scenes. It’s huge, fills a large room. This was meticulously maintained by a group of 40 artists and crafts people for the 10 years it took to make the films, and they used real gravel for the rockwork and boulders, and real plants for the landscaping and trees. It’s magnificent.
Our self-guided tour ended in the big studio store, where we were each gifted with a wand we selected…..although I have been officially sorted into Gryffindor, I chose the wand of Professor Snape, such a complicated and endurably interesting character with the greatest enunciation EVER (RIP Alan Rickman, you are still loved!).
If you are in London or planning to go, and are a Harry Potter fan, or have children who are fans, GO.
It is a fantastic immersive experience and truly a DO-NOT-MISS.