Growing up in England, I was always obsessed with America. I loved American TV, music, even American food. Meanwhile, I thought England sucked. It rains a lot, we didn't have Disney Channel, and we always got the best movies and TV shows months after they were released in the US. Never mind that I got to live in London, one of the most exciting cities in the world. I was convinced that there was nothing about being British to be all that proud of. That is, until I discovered a book about a boy with a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead.
Now I was a big reader growing up. I read a lot, and I mean a lot. My parents used to yell at me in airports to stop reading because I was holding up queues of people. I was immediately hooked on the Harry Potter books, but I was also obsessed with a lot of books. It wasn't until a few years later that the series started to have such a big impact on my life.
As the books started to become the international sensation that they are today, and the movies were making Daniel Radliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson into global superstars, I began to notice something interesting happen. People from all over the world were obsessing over just how British the Harry Potter universe was. Everything from the way we talked to the fact that we all wore uniforms to school seemed to be exciting to other people. I had never for one moment thought that anything about British culture could be interesting at all. Turns out I was wrong. Like, really wrong. But this is how my pride in being British all began.
In fact, just growing up in Britain during the craze of Harry Potter turned out to be an amazing experience, and something else that would help me to develop a pride in where I come from. I was lucky enough to live in North London, the same area that most of the stars of the Harry Potter movies lived in as well. Although they were a few years older than me, I knew older girls at my school who were friends with members of the cast, and would go to parties with them most weekends. In junior school (or elementary school) I played a game of rounders (a British version of baseball) against Bonnie Hunt, the actress who played Ginny Weasely. She won. Whatever.
Everyone I knew had a story about how they knew someone who had almost been cast as Harry, or how they actually knew someone in the films. The niece of my mum's best friend is the actress who played Luna Lovegood. It was awesome to have this whole world of Harry Potter feel even more real because we all felt we had a personal connection to it. On top of that, we could relate to the characters and places in the books and films in a very unique way. Being so used to American high school movies, which portrayed a lifestyle that seemed completely alien to our own, Hogwarts was a breath of fresh air, even if it was a school for witches and wizards. Here, they ate the roast dinners that we were used to, had to play sports in the abysmal British weather, and took exams like OWLs and NEWTs that were based on our GCSEs and A Levels.
In the films, lots of the places were familiar to us too. Suddenly, Kings Cross St Pancras stations weren't just the boring places we went to get the train to our grandparent's house. Now they were the entry way to platform nine-and-three-quarters. In the final film, when Hermione leaves her family home, she walks out of a house and along a street about five minutes from my house. In fact, Leavesden studios, where all the films were shot (and where you can now take a fabulous studio tour), was a short walk from where I went to school. The fact that these magical places were also places that we knew from childhood didn't ruin the magic, it somehow made it more real. While we were sitting in Biology class or playing lacrosse, a few minutes away Harry Potter might be winning a quidditch match, or battling a dementor.
I think the fact that J.K.Rowling insisted on having the films made in England, with an English cast, was more important than anyone ever predicted. It proved to me yet again that Britishness was integral to the most popular story of all time. That it was something to be excited about. Learning to be proud of where you come from is important to anyone's sense of identity, and for me, so much of that came from the Harry Potter world.
The craziness of the book and film releases took the country by storm, and I remember racing home from school with my best friend to go to one of the movie premieres. Over Christmas break last year, my friends and I took a trip to Edinburgh, where we ate in the cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book. The walls of the bathrooms are covered in graffiti from fans, thanking her and commemorating their favorite quotes from the series. We saw the graveyard where JK Rowling got inspiration for many of the character's names, and even came across Diagon Alley.
The books and films continue to hold a very dear place in my heart. I still reread the books whenever I feel in need of comfort. Having moved to America for college, if ever I feel a little homesick, or just want to remember what rain looks like (we don't get much in LA), I'll watch the movies with a lovely cup of tea. In fact, at the start of my sophomore year I got a small lightning-bolt shaped tattoo on my ankle to commemorate how proud I am to have Harry Potter as part of my heritage. Britain is so tied up with the Harry Potter series, and growing up in the heart of it was nothing short of magical.
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