Nov. 2, 2001
Prepare to be spellbound

AS nearly every child can tell you . . . there is less than a week to go. It’s five days and counting until Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone finally hits the silver screen in Scotland.

Scotland’s premiere of the long-awaited film is already guaranteed to be the cinematic event of the year. And even now, as Warner Brothers executives jet across the Atlantic for next Tuesday’s glittering extravaganza, a waiting list of stars desperate to secure a ticket are queuing for returns.

On the night, the lucky ones will be part of a night of glitz and glamour, seldom seen outside of London. Thousands are expected to turn out to watch the celebrities arrive, a sight that will make Jo Murphy, European marketing director of Ster Century Cinemas, happier than most. For without her involvement, Edinburgh might never have hosted the prestigious charity gala event.

For Jo, the screening marks the culmination of three months’ hard work. As soon as Jo, a self-confessed fan of the schoolboy wizard, heard JK Rowling had expressed a wish to see the film of her award-winning book premiered in her home city, she set out to secure the premiere for the 12-screen Ster Century Cinema at Ocean Terminal.

"I knew that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was due out shortly after we opened, so I wrote to Warner Brothers asking if they would allow us to host a Scottish premiere," she explains.

"The submission emphasised that we were opening this fabulous new cinema, and providing what we call the ‘ultimate cinema experience’.

"Given the phenomenon that Harry Potter is, I just knew that we could host an event worthy of the film."

With Edinburgh City Council and Forth Ports Authority supporting the submission, all she could do then was wait. With the release of the film drawing ever closer and having heard nothing back, it began to look doubtful that the charity gala might ever happen.

"Six weeks ago we received confirmation that JK Rowling and Warner Brothers had accepted our submission," she says, the relief clear in her voice. "We were absolutely elated. Who wouldn’t be? Everyone wants to be part of Harry Potter, he’s a rare piece of magic that appeals to children and adults alike."

But with only six weeks until the big day, it was a race against the clock.

"Having to organise an event of this nature in six weeks meant we had to get our skates on," Jo admits.

As if to prove the point, preparations are under way even as she speaks.

Even the champagne has been tasted and approved for the pre-screening receptions in the Ocean Kitchen and the Zinc bar.

Gordon Fuller is overseeing the catering. He can’t wait and expects guests to get through at least 500 bottles of only the best bubbly.

"Conran Restaurants is catering for the Harry Potter premiere party, so guests can expect the champagne to be flowing," he says, promising also a delicious selection of canapes to complement the drinks.

"It’s great to be involved in such an exciting event and we’re all very much looking forward to it. It will certainly be a magical evening."

On the night itself, 1000 lucky tickets holders, who each donated a minimum of £25, will arrive to find the front of the Ocean Terminal illuminated by an enormous morphing Harry Potter logo which will be visible from the Castle.

An army of photographers will greet a gaggle of celebrities, including the film’s producer David Heyman, director Chris Columbus and at least one member of the film’s cast . . . but who will it be? Everyone’s remaining tight-lipped - even the threat of a truth spell won’t make them talk - but Scots star Robbie Coltrane, who plays Harry’s mountainous friend Hagrid in the movie, is favourite to grace the event.

If he does, he’ll be in good company. Although both Sean Connery and Billy Connolly declined their invitations due to work commitments in the United States, JK Rowling herself will be there with her companion Dr Neil Murray, as will up-and-coming Scottish actor Sean Biggerstaff, who plays Oliver Wood, the captain of Harry’s Quidditch team, in the film. Also in attendance will be chat show queen Elaine C Smith, Rebus author Iain Rankin and Monarch of the Glen star Hamish Clark.

Changing Rooms presenter Carol Smillie has confirmed she’ll be there, but after that star-spotters will have to make do with newscasters Jackie Bird, Kirsty Wark and Shereen Nanjiani.

For Sean Biggerstaff, 18, the film could be the first stage towards following in the footsteps of Ewan McGregor. Looking forward to attending the event, he reveals: "It’s really exciting because I didn’t know until quite recently that there was going to be a Scottish premiere. In fact I read about it in the papers before I was invited along."

Like everyone else who’ll be there, he can’t wait to see the special effects, which will have his character flying through the air on a broomstick. "I’ve seen the trailers and it looks really stunning," he says. With a laugh, he adds: "Unfortunately, in the clip all you could see of me was the back of my head . . . for about a second."

Ensuring that the night flows smoothly is the task of Amanda Caldwell. While not willing to give too much away, she insists it’s going to be the ultimate red carpet affair. "From the moment the guests arrive, they will be immersed in the world of Harry Potter. Searchlights will roam the skies above their heads and flaming torches, 6ft tall, will flank the approach to the cinema."

Inside they’ll be met by Ster Century Cinema directors and treated to champagne and canapes in the Ocean Kitchen, transformed for the occasion into a shrine to all things Potteresque. From broomsticks to banners, barn owls to bludgers, they’ll all be there.

Suitably refreshed, the moment of truth will arrive as the film, which for security reasons will be brought to Scotland in separate segments, is shown simultaneously on the cinema’s three largest screens.

Cinema manager Kathryn Allan is well prepared for the event, which also marks the cinema’s official opening. She says: "We’ve already got posters and stands in place, but on the night the place is going to look unbelievable. We have an entire stock room bursting with Harry Potter merchandise. In fact, we are having to close for the whole of Tuesday to allow us enough time to set it all up."

And she promises: "Every inch of wall space will be covered with posters and banners, there will be dozens of holographic cut-outs, all of which will be kept under tight security to deter souvenir hunters."

She adds: "Getting 1000 people in and out of the cinema really is going to be like a military operation. Normally our screenings are staggered so that each film comes out at a different time, but on Tuesday everyone will be arriving and leaving together."

As a result, all leave has been cancelled and extra staff have been drafted in to ensure that everyone gets their popcorn and ends up in the right seat before the titles roll.

Each guest will also be presented with a goodie bag including a packet of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans - Harry’s favourite sweets. "But watch out for the horseradish flavour," warns Kathryn, who by the end of the evening expects to have given away more than 140 square metres of popcorn.

Harry Potter the movie, it appears, is set to weave its magical spell on Capital movie-goers, just as the books did before.