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Blessed are the meek: Brian Blessed talks ahead of Shrewsbury show

He’s best known for his booming voice and leading roles in Z-Cars, I, Claudius, Blackadder, and Flash Gordon.

Brian Blessed
Brian Blessed

But Brian Blessed is more than just an actor, writer and presenter.

The former boxer also made three attempts on Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen. He holds a 3rd dan in Judo and has reached the tops of Mount Aconcagua in Argentina and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

As an adventurer he became the oldest man to go to the North Magnetic Pole on foot, and survived a plane crash in the jungles of Venezuela.

The extraordinary list goes on. Blessed has completed 800 hours of space training in Russia, and was a master of ceremonies at the British farewell ceremony marking the handover of Hong Kong.

He once powered through a performance of King Lear, despite collapsing on stage and later being compelled to withdraw from the production on the advice of his heart specialist so that he could be fitted with a pacemaker.

And his feats on stage and for charity helped to earn him an OBE in the 2016 Birthday Honours.

So there is no shortage of subject matter when Blessed stands before an audience to talk about his life, and this Thursday he will share his experiences at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn.

He will talk about his career on stage and screen including anecdotes from Flash Gordon, Blackadder, I Claudius and Z Cars. He will also recall his ascent of Everest.

This show may not be suitable for people who don’t like the odd expletive – or those of a nervous disposition.

“I have immense courage,” the booming-voiced stage legend says.

“I climb mountains. I’m the oldest man to climb Mount Everest. And I’ve just completed space training in Moscow. I am now a fully trained cosmonaut, and I’ve done a lot with NASA as well. You can see, I’m as mad as a hatter.”

He will also talk about his early years, which were far-removed from the thespian lifestyle.

“I had to make coffins. My father was injured in the coal mines when I was just 15 years of age. I had to leave school and do my schooling at night, and the only job I could get was as an undertaker.

“So I would make the coffins, wash the dead bodies down, put sawdust in the coffins as people were very poor, and then seal it all up and bury it. That was the worst job I’ve ever had in my life.”

Blessed has few regrets and has tried to treat others with respect along the way.

The only person he’d need to apologise to, had the opportunity arisen, was a gardening teacher at school.

“He was a brilliant gardener, Mr Ockley, and I was his best pupil,” he says. “But when it came to asking would I take up gardening, I said ‘No, I’m taking up acting’ and it broke his heart. But I could never explain to him that that was my soul. I loved gardening, but I loved acting more, and I was going to explain it to him the next day but he died.”

Remarkably, he’s never been fired from a job but he did once come very close when he starred alongside Kenneth Branagh in Hamlet. “He was Laertes and I was Claudius. Of course, at the beginning of the play, Claudius has a five page speech as he’s coronated,” Blessed adds.

“On the opening night – Lawrence Olivier, Michael Caine, Omar Sharif in the front row – just as I’m about to open my mouth, someone broke wind and it echoed all over the theatre. And I couldn’t speak, it made me laugh so much. Branagh was alongside me and became legless.

“The next day he and I were dragged in front of the committee and they said they were ashamed of us that we laughed so much, and if we ever did it again we’d be sacked.”

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