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Exclusive: Toy World attends Back to Hogwarts

Published on: 29th September 2023

Editor Rachael Simpson-Jones attended Back to Hogwarts on 1st September to find out more about the enduring appeal of the Wizarding World.

September 1st once again marked Back to Hogwarts, the day of the year when Hogwarts students (you guessed it) board the Hogwarts express and return to the internationally acclaimed Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Rachael Simpson-Jones picked up her wand and set off to King’s Cross to experience the event for herself, before sitting down with Rachel Wakley, SVP & general manager – UK & Ireland at Warner Bros. Discovery, to find out more about the enduring appeal of the Wizarding World and how the studio is keeping its magic alive.

Coffee and cookie in hand (but concealed beneath my cloak), I took a moment to stand back and watch as attendees of the Back to Hogwarts event noticed what was on the departures boards in the main concourse of King’s Cross Station. There, sandwiched between boards showing the muggle trains to Bradford Interchange and York – and thankfully running on time – was the 11.00 to Hogsmeade: the Hogwarts Express.

Around me, a record crowd of thousands had gathered to celebrate the auspicious day. Although I had dressed up for the occasion, donning a cloak, Gryffindor uniform and tie, owl-themed backpack and wand, I couldn’t help but feel mine was an amateur attempt. There was some incredible cosplay on show, from Death Eaters and Aurors to Hagrid and even (admittedly, somewhat disconcertingly) a human-size Dobbie in a vinyl mask and oversized pillowcase. Where the fans were gathering, a stage had been set up, complete with a towering stack of Hogwarts-bound trunks and a lifesize Buckbeak. Here, host Sam Thompson would ultimately entertain the crowds by interviewing cast members from The Cursed Child, quizzing the audience and handing out prizes from the likes of Wow! Stuff, The Carat Shop and more, and dabbling in some magic as the clocked ticked down to 11am – the moment everyone was waiting for, when an announcement played over the tannoy system would invite students to board the Hogwarts Express and return for the new school year.

The event was remarkable in both atmosphere and scale. Despite the latest round of train strikes, the turnout was enormous. Being in the crowd was a little like being in front of the main stage at a music festival, only with more wands and Butterbeer. “I guess this is what you call brand immersion,” remarked one excited young witch to me, the plush toad on her shoulder sitting at a jaunty angle. And getting from one end of the station to the other was an act of magic in itself, with those deftly weaving their way through the thrum becoming the recipients of many an amusing Slytherin-based quip.

But above all else, Back to Hogwarts 2023 was a shining testament to the deep, resonant love fans have for the Wizarding World: a love that has spanned nearly 25 years, 18 books, 11 movies, an award-winning international stageplay, multiple games across numerous platforms, theme-park events and dedicated location based experiences, a huge consumer goods slate and much, much more. Rachel Wakley, SVP & general manager – UK & Ireland at Warner Bros. Discovery, tells Toy World readers what they can expect from the franchise as its magic continues to grow.

To read the Q&A, click here.

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