Unveiling a Terrifying ‘Harry Potter’ Set Accident That Surpasses the Fear of Lord Voldemort
In the years since the Harry Potter films ended, fans have learned much about the goings-on off-screen, but there are still many events that take time to come to light, especially the ones involving the lesser-known members of the Harry Potter family. While the series rocketed the likes of Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson to stardom, others are not as recognizable, likely because no one knows when they’re on-screen. The stunt doubles are often the unsung heroes of films, despite the fact that they take the biggest risks. Movie making can be a surprisingly dangerous business, and Harry Potter was no different.
With eight films, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the filming process met disaster at least once, but that doesn’t make the story any less impactful. The former stuntman and entrepreneur, David Holmes, was Radcliffe’s stunt double for most of the films. But that changed after an accident on the set of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows left him paralyzed from the chest down. Yet even after the life-changing injury, Holmes has refused to let his circumstances define him. After years of healing, Holmes spoke to The Mirror about the events surrounding his paralysis and how he has chosen to live since.
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Flying is widely recognized as one of the more dangerous stunts, and unfortunately, it’s also a common one in Harry Potter. While rehearsing for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Holmes practiced a jerk back stunt meant to mimic the effects of an explosion. As expected, a high-strength wire pulled him back, but something went wrong, and Holmes slammed into a wall before landing on the crash mat. The fall broke Holmes’ neck, leaving him paralyzed. The stuntman didn’t initially realize the severity of his injury, claiming his first concern was that they would call his parents and cause them to worry.
In the aftermath, the stunt coordinator asked Holmes to squeeze his fingers. While Holmes could grab the other man’s hand, he couldn’t squeeze. And that was the moment he realized things were very wrong. Despite slipping in and out of consciousness, Holmes remembers the day well. Holmes likened the pain to the feeling he’d experienced from broken bones, stating in his interview with The Mirror, “recognizing that weird feeling across my whole body from my fingertips right down to my toes, I knew I had really done some damage.” The injury changed much for Holmes and had long-lasting effects that he still deals with.
Healing from the fall took a long time and will never be completed. Holmes’ diagnosis includes paralysis from the chest down and limited mobility of his hands and arms. After the injury, Holmes was rushed to Watford General Hospital for immediate care but was later transferred to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, North West London, where he spent six months. After the injury, Holmes had to relearn simple tasks. In the time he spent healing, most of his muscles atrophied, meaning he had a lot more recovery to do. Holmes told The Mirror, “I have gone from being able to stand on my hands for half an hour at a time and then all of a sudden I can’t sit up in bed.” At first, Holmes struggled to find his balance, unable to sit up straight, but that didn’t last. The process took patience, persistence, and no small amount of pain, but Holmes learned to function with his new circumstances.
Harry Potter wasn’t Holmes’ first film as a stuntman. He began a career as a competitive gymnast at six, and by fourteen, he was a body double for the child actor in Lost in Space. Stunt coordinator, Greg Powell, met Holmes shortly before the start of Harry Potter and suggested him for Radcliffe’s double, kicking off his involvement with the series. Before his injury, Holmes was trained in gymnastics, trampolining, high diving, kickboxing, horse riding, and swimming. Holmes worked on all the Harry Potter films until his accident in 2009 and told The Mirror, “It was an amazing experience. I loved it and Dan was an absolute pleasure to work with. The cast and crew were like a second family and I remain in touch with a lot of them to this day.”
Spending so many years with the cast and crew of Harry Potter, it’s no surprise that Holmes formed friendships with the others. Both Radcliffe and Tom Felton visited him in the hospital, but not out of courtesy. Radcliffe specifically stated that they remain friends, saying, “I’ve got a relationship that goes back many, many years with Dave. And I would hate for people to just see me and Dave and go, ‘oh, there’s Daniel Radcliffe with a person in a wheelchair’ – because I would never, even for a moment, want them to assume that Dave was anything except for an incredibly important person in my life.” Radcliffe even hosted a charity dinner and auction to cover Holmes’ medical bills. The years spent working together seem to have resulted in a lifelong friendship.
Fourteen years after his injury, Holmes has a busy life. Though in a wheelchair, Holmes has not become inactive. He has taken to racing a specially-modified car, which he can control with his hands through a push-pull system. Holmes uses it to drive around the track at terrifying speeds, still unafraid of the danger. He also partnered with two tetraplegic friends to launch Ripple Productions, where they created a series of podcasts for people who have suffered traumatic injuries. Holmes furthers his work as an activist by being an Appeal Ambassador for RNOH, the specialist orthopedic hospital where he spent much of his recovery. Despite the life-changing accident, Holmes remains positive, and he doesn’t let what happened to him define him. Even though his life may not look the same as before, Holmes took control of his situation and made a life for himself.