Brian Blessed, Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury - review and pictures
If you felt any strange earthquake-like rumblings or heard distant shouting in Shrewsbury last night, don't panic – it was just Brian Blessed.
The Flash Gordon actor lived up to every larger-than-life expectation at the Theatre Severn as he told tales about being groped by gorillas, punching a polar bear and starting Sean "Tammy" Connery's career by suggesting he wear a wig.
But the 81 year old managed to surprise those just expecting two hours of "Gordon's alive!" by reciting poetry, speaking passionately about his love of animals and singing opera.
That didn't stop him from quoting his favourite lines from The Black Adder, Z Cars and Star Wars; recalling dialogue from programmes he made nearly 30 years ago without hesitation.
He walked on stage to Queen's Flash Gordon theme, characteristically dressed in shirt, jacket and Eskimo mukluk boots.
"These will do well for the weather tonight," he said, before congratulating Shrewsbury Town fans on the team's recent performance.
That is about as calm as the night got. Within seconds he is roaring Flash Gordon quotes, making the first few rows jump out of their skin every time. It was a tense night for anybody who was quick enough to get the top tickets, because they were never quite sure when he was going to suddenly chase across the stage shouting.
Brian is, by his own admission, absolutely bonkers.
This culminated in two of the main threads of the evening: his trip up Everest and his love of animals.
Blessed has climbed Everest three time, each without extra oxygen.
"I just don't need it," he said.
He joked about toilet habits on the mountain and his fond relationship with the Sherpas.
"They called me Yeti," a fact that he seemed very proud of. He said he likes looking like a gorilla; it's a sexy look, he explained - a sentiment which got a round of applause.
His entire relationship with animals is fascinating, and it's no wonder that he has written his latest book on the subject.
From keeping a panther in his kitchen as a thank you to his father for taking him to see the 1942 adaptation of The Jungle Book, to a heartbreaking story about Jack Russell Misty, it's clear he feels a real connection with the animal kingdom.
He has saved thousands of animals in his life and said it is one of his passions.
A question and answer session gave fans the chance to ask questions about the classics, with stories about his time on Blackadder and in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.
At the end of the show, the lighting and sound engineer signed that it was time to wrap things up.
"I've got to sign books, but that's not what it's about," Brian said.
"I'm here to spend time with you."
If it had been someone else, it would have been easy to be cynical.
But after two hours of being around Brian Blessed, even in a crowded theatre, you feel like you've really got to know him. There's no front with him – the "act" isn't an act.
There are few people who do these biographical tours that seem as genuine as he does. They say the same things every night, delivering stories from their latest book in the same way show after show.
Brian jumped from story to story, interrupting himself to go off on incredible tangents and giving an unusually intimate insight into his life.
Even when the things he said sounded too incredible, too mad - even for him - you want to believe. Even when he slipped in an oddly-perfect impression of the Queen saying how much she enjoyed his time as host on Have I Got News For You, you want to give him the benefit of the doubt.
From imitating Pavarotti to reciting a poem he read to Sir Patrick Moore on his death bed, Brian's show was full of surprises. He called himself 50 per cent actor, 50 per cent adventurer, and as the night went on we saw just how true that is.
It's partly because he is crazy and doesn't care who knows it. He's also just happy to be him.
"Follow your dreams," he said. "And don't let the b******s grind you down."