The 100th Tour de France starts this weekend, and I am very excited. I’m keen to see whether Chris Froome – seemingly transformed from a taciturn rabbit in the media headlights into a formidable Tour favourite in barely 18 months – can lead Team Sky to a famous victory. I’m excited to watch my favourite riders like David Millar and Jens Voigt. I’m positively salivating to watch Peter Sagan boss his way around France, and Mark Cavendish sprint along finishing straights from the prologue in Corsica to Paris at twilight in 3 weeks’ time. In an alternative universe I would love to be a helicopter cameraman for the Tour de France. But this post isn’t about the Tour de France.
In another alternative universe I would work on film sets. I would be a prop maker, a production designer, a set creator, a world-builder (mwah ha ha ha…!). Last month we finally made a family pilgrimage to the Harry Potter Studio Experience just outside London. Our family are pretty fanatical about the whole ‘franchise’. Hannah (11 this weekend) is mid-way through her third reading of the entire series of books and has seen all the films multiple times. Eleanor (7) is currently reading Book 3 (Prisoner of Azkaban) and has seen all the films up to #5 (Order of the Phoenix). Rachel and I have been involved since the first books were published.
Much as when we went to Legoland a couple of years ago, I drove into the carpark with trepidation. Just how soulless or corporate would it be? Friends had spoken positively, but warned about the shop: I feared for a London Eye experience. And it is quite corporate, in the way that the branding is amazingly controlled throughout, in the way the shop sells every possible type of merchandise, way beyond what you might have thought beforehand, in the way that your entrance into the studios is managed into groups, with introductory film clips and montages from the films to remind you of all the sets you’re about to see.
But it is also utterly breathtaking, authentic beyond imagination. The experience is controlled, but at every stage it has the fans in mind. The control means you get plenty of time to marvel at the environment and costumes in the Great Hall, one of the smaller and restricted sets, before entering the wide-open hangars beyond. The costumes keep coming, and with every new revelation or surprise, we were gasping with delight: Hermione’s ballgown, (Hello to) Jason Isaacs’ long blonde Lucius Malfoy wig; the potions classroom, the models of goblins, Dolores Umbridge’s collection of cat plates, the triple-decker Knight Bus, the entire Diagon Alley, and the final masterpiece, the massive scale model of Hogwarts.
I wanted to climb over the barriers and examine every potion bottle. I wanted to read every wizarding magazine, poster and newspaper. The intricacies in the prop design were jaw-dropping, the details in every character’s wands, the huge scale of the Ministry of Magic and the ‘Magic is Might’ statue just astonishing. The audio guide has all sorts of extra nuggets and insights; it’s a huge film geek treasure trove, like a live DVD extra box set that just keeps going and going.
It’s an utterly different experience from our journey around the Parisian sites from Amélie, but no less captivating. We were there for hours and could have stayed longer. Warner Brothers have got this brilliantly right. I can’t wait to go back.