Brian Blessed is a force of nature, with his signature beard, booming voice and wild eyes, this Yorkshire lad knows how to live and has packed a ridiculous amount of experiences into his 82 years. He’s survived a plane crash in the Venezuelan jungle, delivered a baby while out jogging, given art lessons to Pablo Picasso, saved a man’s life, and discussed sex with the Dalai Lama… I could go on, and on, and on… Ok then, I will.
“You’ve got 15 seconds to have a pee otherwise your c**k will fall off”
He’s an accomplished actor, known for his hearty, king-sized portrayals on film and television, writer, presenter and explorer. This giant of a man with an eloquent wit and a booming, operatic voice recently visited The Muni in Colne while on tour with his one man show – An Evening with Brian Blessed, an experience that nobody should miss.
Brian talks about his career on stage and screen including anecdotes from Flash Gordon, Black Adder, I Claudius and Z Cars and his many appearances in Shakespearean Productions.
When I catch up with Brian, I’m frozen bowlegged, it’s downright ‘parky’…
“Cold!” he bellows, “nonsense,” he yells. “Cold is when you’ve got five inches of ice on your face, and you can’t get a Mars Bar into your mouth, and you have got 15 seconds to have a pee otherwise your cock will fall off!”
It’s at that point that I spit out my tea splattering my new top in the process, it’s too early to talk about penises, but Brian carries on, “the temperature is 60 degrees below zero with a chill factor of 70, you have 15 seconds to do your business, if you don’t manage it within the time – you lose your penis.”
Regarding his nether regions, he’s referring to the three times he has scaled Mount Everest, being the oldest man to ever make it to the North Pole.
Moving swiftly on, I manage to get a question in and ask Brian how his current tour is going?
“I’m enjoying the one man show. I’m 50% actor, 50% explorer but in this bloody silly age we live in at the moment, with Brexit, is really boring the arse off me you know.”
I feel I need to interject at this point, Brian is charming, lovable and incredibly charismatic, but can this lad answer a question with a straight answer? That would be a big, fat no. He jumps from one subject to another quicker than Flash Gordon ever could. Getting a straight answer from this one isn’t dissimilar to a sheepdog desperately trying to herd a million sheep into a tiny pen. But, undeterred, I carry on…
“I enjoy performing my one man show. I have a basic format, but a lot depends on how the audience are. A few months ago, a man came on the stage and said, ‘I’ve only got days to live’, he was crying his eyes out. I hugged him. He was covered in great cancerous lumps, and I said, ‘bloody hell, you ain’t half cheering this audience up!’ He roared with laughter and said, ‘oh god Brian that’s good, I can die bloody laughing. It was farcical!
“I try to give love and light. I want to change every cell in the audiences’ bodies, and they change me too. I talk about expeditions, my childhood, the war years, and about all the different people I’ve met. I do bits including Grampy Rabbit from Peppa Pig and of course everybody wants me to say, ‘Gordon’s Alive!’”
The phrase ‘Gordon’s Alive’ has become his catchphrase since he appeared in the 1980 film Flash Gordon.Who can forget Brian’s imposing character Prince Vultan, with his glorious wings and sturdy thighs?
As the son of a Yorkshire coal miner in the war years his regular weekly treat would be a trip to the local cinema, where he would watch Flash Gordon in black and white.
“When I was seven, I’d run down the railway embankments to catch a glimpse of The Flying Scotsman, jumping over hedges and walls, I’d pretend I was Vultan,” laughs Brian, “I never dreamt that one day I’d actually play the part.
“It’s a marvellous film, some people have said… it’s a bit camp, but it’s not camp. It’s got great style, wonderful lighting in it, marvellous actors and fabulous music from Queen.
“A while ago when Cameron was Prime Minister, I was at Number 10 with Bonnington and Ranulph Fiennes for a conference to save animals, elephants and tigers etcetera.
I got there early and fell asleep outside the conference room. I was woken up by Cameron, saying. ‘do come inside.’ I went in the cabinet room and stood on a chair, ‘please say it’, said Cameron, and I yelled, ‘Gordon’s Alive’ and he said, ‘that will wake the buggers up!’”
A son of a miner from Mexborough, his Yorkshire accent seems to have dissolved, and despite the fact he lives in Surrey, he’s Yorkshire born and bred.
“I’m a complete Yorkshireman in character, we had to learn what you might call King’s Speech at drama school, but they said you must never lose your Yorkshire expression and of course I’ve never lost the expression, it’s what makes me who I am.
“I always feel that Haworth and Keighley and around there, is the centre of the earth. I’ve been all over the world as you know, but in and around Haworth and Keighley is my favourite part of the world. I love the Himalayas and South America is sensational, but my heart is at Top Withens in Haworth.”
Despite his plethora of life experiences, I managed to discover the one thing he hasn’t done, he’s never climbed Pendle Hill …this lad hasn’t lived! But to be fair, Brian has accomplished things we plebeians can only dream of, a trained astronaut, he finished 800 hours of training making him the number one civilian reserve ready to visit the International Space Station.
“I am determined to go up and I want to explore the moon, Mars and beyond!” he grins.
So, now it seems I’m not just talking to an actor/explorer, he also just happens to be a cosmonaut, and if that isn’t enough, he’s a talented artist who, as a child, chatted with Pablo Picasso…
“I was only a kid and it was the Royal Peace Conference in Sheffield. Picasso was there painting, there were thousands of people there, and he was sat there in the theatre in the town hall. He sounded very weird and I said, ‘you’re not Picasso you sound more like Carmen Miranda!”
He said, “I will draw you a dove of peace,” which he did, and handed it to me. “I said, ‘That shows you’re not Picasso, that’s not a dove!’ Picasso replied: “For the first time I have a critic, the child does not believe this is a dove.’
“I threw his drawing on the floor and in doing so, threw away about £57m. It was picked up, presented to the assembly as a symbol of the peace congress of 1948 and now hangs in Sheffield Gallery. My father wouldn’t talk to me for three weeks.”
My biggest love in life is stillness and silence
Despite his constant chatter, he can be quiet from time to time. Brian has regularly meditated since he was 24.
“What I must tell you is, I’ve known Kenneth Brannagh for over 30 years, he’s one of the greatest talents in the world. We have a father-son relationship. I’m the son, he’s the father he’s so old, anyway he was asked by the press the other day ‘what is Brian Blessed like?’ He said, ‘he’s the quietest man I’ve ever met.’
“My biggest love in life is stillness and silence. On big mountains I can sit for days – I don’t need any company. I’m not anti-social but I love silence. Jesus did 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness. I think everybody should do 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness somewhere. You need wilderness as you have to use your eyes. We have light pollution in the cities and the towns, we have noise pollution and to get out onto the moors, to get out with the mountains round the rivers, your eyes start to get better, your hearing starts to get better and you start to grow and we all need it. The wilderness is very, very good for us.”
Larger than life, Brian shows no signs of slowing down. I wanted to know what motivates him, to which he answers, “The love of life. Never money. I work for animals all over the world. I’m afraid this autumn I’m going to get into a lot of trouble as I’m going to be fighting the Japanese about introducing whaling – the blue whale, humpback whale and sperm bank whale. They are going to start hunting all the whales in September and October. They have about 20,000 powerful ships to do it. They’ll decimate the whales. Around Japan, Russia, South America… they’ll come across the Pacific. They are going to break the moratorium, everyone is horrified, they are rich! They don’t need it. The blue whale sing songs. They sing a different song every six months to each other, we don’t really understand whales yet, we don’t understand how they evolved.”
His love of animals is apparent, despite the punch up he once had with a polar bear on a trek to the north pole. While sleeping in his tent one night, he was rudely awakened by a polar bear as it slowly entered his tent. Brian simply bellowed at the bear, following it up with a punch on the nose. The polar bear scarpered. Believe it or not, but our Brian saved the bear’s life after other camp members were ready to shoot to kill.
This chap is a formidable character, he shows no fear, but there’s a glint of terror that appears in his eyes when I mention taking a razor to his trademark beard…I ask if, like Samson, he fears that he may lose his strength…
“I’ve had a beard now for 50 years, there’s going to be a documentary in celebration of my beard,” he proudly grins.
Is there anything Brian can’t do?
“I’ll try anything,” says Brian, “but, I can’t knit!”
“Can I just say Karen?” asks Brian. “This is the best interview I’ve done in years,” he grins. Wow, quite a compliment from the big man himself. And as the interview draws to a close, we arrange a date to climb Pendle Hill together. I promise to make the butties as long as he promises to give me no longer than 15 seconds when I need a wee!
The mould was shattered when Brian entered the world. There is no one else like him. He’s a born storyteller, a walking, talking legend whose infectious energy makes you want to beat your chest in a Tarzan-like fashion. Brian is certainly blessed.