Brian Blessed talks (rather loudly) to Tony Dewhurst
FIVE minutes into the interview, Brian Blessed finally pauses for breath and then there’s a mighty, crash, bang, wallop.
“Blimey. Just a mo,” concern briefly rising in his voice.
“One of our Shetland Ponies is charging across the front lawn.
“Back in a jiffy, old pal.”
He adds: “Here, have a word with my driver Steve, he’s a lovely fella.”
He is too. We chat briefly about the weather and holidays.
Suddenly that booming explosion of an accent, that superhuman force of nature with the earth-shaking power of Krakatoa, is back on the other end of the telephone.
So far Blessed has regaled me with tales of saving bears in China, training to be a cosmonaut in Moscow, attempting the ascent of Everest twice, his growing animal sanctuary, and following his acting dream.
“I live my life as I speak it and when I come to Clitheroe I’m going to share that dream of what is possible for everybody,” says Blessed, who will talk about his life in an exclusive one-off show at Clitheroe’s Grand Theatre on February 25.
“Follow your dream, that’s what I say. A teacher at secondary school once told me: ‘To become a famous actor and famous explorer is impossible for a boy from your working-class background.
“And I just said: B*******. I’ll do it. I’ll show you.”
It is a virtuoso performance by one of Britain’s finest actors, who’s starred in theatre, film and TV for more than 50 years.
“My parents taught me honesty, compassion and kindness and how to care for people,” added Blessed, who first found fame in the 60s cop series Z Cars.
“Also, they encouraged me to take risks, to boldly go.
“They taught me the greatest danger in life is not taking adventure.
“My parents were so proud when I got a scholarship to go to theatre school – it was unheard of that a coal-miner’s son should go to drama school.
“The letter said: ‘I was impressed by your audition and I predict that you have a very fine future ahead of you.’ And then we all wept.
“Along with kissing my wife for the first time, my daughter being born and climbing Everest, it was the greatest moment of my life.”
Blessed is just warming up. This is just the opening act. There is a Shakespearean howl of laughter as he explains how he has collected 900 animals of various sizes and species at his rambling, eight-acre Surrey home.
“I love animals. My wife has saved them all – dogs, cats, ponies, sheep, goats, hens, ferrets.”
He says his Jack Russell – Misty – has just fallen asleep on his head and is snoring contentedly.
“My most recent acquisition for the menagerie was a friendly white baboon – he had been in a circus in Bolivia – and has spent 20 years riding on the back of a lion.
“I met him at the airport like you would a prime minister and brought him back to my lovely home. He loves it here.”
Blessed seems to defy the natural ageing process. He is like an out of control twister tearing across the planet and there’s no absolutely no sign of the 78-year-old slamming on the brakes.
He has the energy of a night-clubbing teenager high on life and is, apparently, the oldest man in the world to climb 28,500 feet without oxygen. He tells me that’s a world record.
“I was 68 at the time,” he said.
“I love going on adventures. Next year I’m going to Ecuador to climb Sangay – which means terror – the most dangerous volcano in the world.
“It is 19,000 feet high and erupts every 11 minutes.
“I’ll be with some of the top climbers on the planet and wearing a gas mask, helmet and shields.
“That’s what I call a proper day out.”
He says he has no time for ‘silly showbiz parties’ and the ‘boring nonsense’ of the West End.
“A waste of energy all that. I save it for climbing mountains and one day I’ll go into space.
“I’ll make it to Mars. Definitely. I’m a number one reserve for the International Space Station.
“I will never retire. The secret is that I love life.”
He grew up in a village between Doncaster and Barnsley, where his father worked in the coal mining industry.
And talking to Blessed, however briefly, makes you wish that there were more like him, instead of the shallow husks of X Factor style celebrities that somehow pass for entertainment.
“Every Saturday morning we would go to the cinema and I remember watching the black and white version of Flash Gordon,” he recalled.
“I absolutely loved Vultan, King of the Hawkmen, never realising that I would play him many years later.”
And before I ask, he roars at the top of his voice ‘Gordon’s Alive!’
“I must say it 100 times a day.
“I walk down the street anywhere in the world and they all shout: ‘Please say ‘Gordon’s Alive!’ mate.
“Her Majesty The Queen asked me to say it and so did David Cameron when I went to 10 Downing Street to have a meeting about explorers.”
And there’s just one more heart-warming yarn before he rushes off for feeding time at the sanctuary.
“Listen to this, “ he adds excitedly. “I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and we were half way up and this fellow in Masai Mara warrior dress saw me, grinned and went, ‘Please Mr Brian, say ‘Gordon’s Alive. We just hugged and laughed.
“Those two words are a battle cry for freedom.”
Brian Blessed: Follow Your Dream, Clitheroe Grand Theatre. February 25. £22.00. Box office, 01200 421599.