The return of Harry Potter Formals

By Laura Kenworthy 2min read

For the past quarter of a century, Cambridge Colleges have had a convenient shorthand for describing their traditions and loyalties to the uninitiated. “It’s a bit like Hogwarts” has, since the publication of the first Harry Potter book in 1997, been a shared image, and one that usually Cambridge is keen to dispel.

But Homerton has a longstanding habit of, just occasionally, playing up to the comparison. Harry Potter Formals, held in the Great Hall, have become a highlight of the Homerton experience, and last week the Principal, Lord Woolley, stepped into Dumbledore’s robes for the first time.

With live owls provided by the Raptor Foundation, decorations created by the HUS, the Charter Choir singing Double, Double, Toil and Trouble and Fellows adding to the sense of authenticity by adopting the characters of staff, the Formals have become an annual staple for HUS Office Manager Emma Themba.

“In previous years we have gone all out and decorated the outside of the hall, and we've videoed prisoners of Azkaban using staff and students to display on the screens around College. But we didn’t do that this year,  because my Ents team actually went down with COVID during Harry Potter  week!  We really pared it back this year and decided the Great Hall is grand enough to not need so much dressing up to become Hogwarts’ Great Hall - she's a magical beaut already!  We just went with simple decorations in the Hogwarts colours, the usual banners hung from the balcony (ironed by hand by me!) coloured tablecloths, and some colour-coordinated jewels, tealights, cauldrons,chocolate coins and book bundles (made by hand) for each table. 

We turn the Griffin bar into the Three Broomsticks using lots of fun curiosities made over the years. This year we made various characters’ exercise books (including burning a hole through Seamus Finnigan’s and screwing up Ron Weasley’s), alongside wrapping up actual broomsticks, bottling eyeballs, making glowing jars and bottles and displaying wands we've made over the years.”

Staff attended as characters ranging from Professors Snape, McGonagall and Umbrage, to Voldemort and Ginny Weasley, while students cast as Harry, Ron, Hermione and Draco performed a skit with the hidden voice of the sorting hat.

As we gradually try to reclaim normality after the past two years, there was something reassuringly familiar last week in seeing social media flooded with Homerton students trying to get their hands on last-minute Harry Potter Formal tickets. Thank you to the catering staff, to Emma and the HUS, and to all the staff and Fellows who did their part to make it so magical.