Brian Blessed - how I romanced by wife in Harrogate
As Brian Blessed heads to Harrogate for an Evening at the Royal Hall, Ann Chadwick speaks to the actor and tour de force, who can truly own the expression: ‘larger than life’.
“How delightful,” he said it is to talk. Especially about Harrogate. Brian Blessed is a blessing.
“Harrogate has a wonderful sound to it,” he said. “It sounds like it’s on fire, it sounds like it’s full of energy – HARROGATE!”
Brian Blessed is heading to the Royal Hall next March for a special one-man show, presented by Cause UK for the Harrogate Film Festival.
And gosh, do we need Brian Blessed in these insular, anxiety-heavy, divisive days.
He has a message for his audience in Harrogate: “What I’ll tell the audience is, here you are ladies and gentleman sitting here, and you’re actually travelling at 60,000 miles an hour on rocket ship Earth. So when you wake up tomorrow morning you’ll be in a different part of the universe. We are children of stardust, yearning for the stars.
“I’ll throw in some Shakespeare, my acting, some speeches, and they’ll be a lot of comedy as well. I’m looking forward to meeting the people there and making them laugh, making them cry. And I hope that I can change every cell in every body’s body.”
If anyone can...
“Mainly, particularly in this day and age – I want to say - you know, that there is no one like you. We’ve all got something that nobody else has got, and you’ve got to be able to bring it out – fulfil your dreams.”
The 83-year-old actor is a life force. Though don’t mention his age.
“I can’t stand all this age nonsense. I mean 40 is very young indeed, and I was supposedly middle aged between 55 and 65, but it’s not how old you are; it’s how you are old. Death doesn’t exist for me, so I’m climbing these mountains and going on expeditions, and fulfilling my dreams. I think life is the last word and death is not!
“I know we had Brexit and God knows what, which is very boring, but I think as a race we’re going to make it.”
Brian wants to talk about the ‘marvellous things’ in the world, not all the ‘negative messages’.
He’s planted more than 500 trees at his home, valuing their oxygen – which feeds his famed operatic bellow –cutting down a tree is a ‘very serious thing’ but! “We are winning and fighting back. And young people are doing such good work – and old people as well – The politicians at times really do bore me.”
Famed for being ‘50 per cent actor, 50 per cent explorer’ – he’s a fully trained cosmonaut (he says he’s completed 900 hours space training with NASA).
“Oh yes. I’m going to go into space, yeah. Of course in Russia I went into a jet to just more than 95,000 feet so I’ve already been into space you might say, but yes I’m going into space and encouraging other people to go as well.
“Young and old will get out there! That’s why I do all this space training in old age, as an example to the fact you can do anything. I train like hell, I have a gym like Rocky in the Rocky films. I bench press 300 pounds, I run five miles a day - not out of vanity - so that I’m fit for the things I want to do. So I train, and keep very fit. I have rowing machines, bike machines, sacks full of weights – crude and wonderful – and keep myself very, very fit, so actually I would say really I’m about 40 years of age.”
Brian Blessed is a human roar. The man who will always fight against the dying of the light. Who hasn’t let go of his childhood wonder.
Alongside his antics around his superhuman spirit, it’s actually an anecdote on falling for his wife while in Harrogate- the actress Hildegarde Neil - which makes him even more loveable. It’s a beautiful story that he begins with the words: “The extraordinary thing is...”
He begins to explain how in the 1970s he met Hildegarde - both were filming a Yorkshire TV series called Boy Dominic.
“Hildegarde was the face of the ‘70s, and she was this very beautiful woman with grey-green eyes and black hair. She played Cleopatra with Charlton Heston, and was in England Made Me as Peter Finch’s leading lady, and The Man Who Haunted Himself with Roger Moore. She was in every magazine. Anyway, we were doing this series for Yorkshire Television filming around Harrogate, and I’ve climbed Mount Everest, I’ve done space training – you name it - and everyone was saying, for Christ Sake the pair of you are so in love, but I was filming with Hildegarde for about 15 weeks and we didn’t even hold hands.”
“The time came, and I did eventually approach her and kissed her for the first time on her lips, and that required more courage for me than climbing Mount Everest.
“ I was so shy. And we went to Harrogate to celebrate this moment. We went to a restaurant in Harrogate, and they’d prepared a lovely meal for us, and neither of us could eat it.
“It was beautifully put together and the chef was so upset, and the waiters were so upset, and they came to see us and said is the food not right? I said, ‘We’re so in love we can’t eat!’ Our stomachs and hearts were so in ecstasy that we couldn’t eat!! That was it, and it was the start of our relationship and our marriage, and we’ve been married now for going on 50 years.”
And so, he says, “Harrogate will be magical for me” when he performs at the Royal Hall in March.
Brian is of course a Yorkshireman. The son of a miner from Mexborough who went to drama classes with Patrick Stewart – the boy in the next village. “My dad knew the whole of Hamlet and he was a coal hewer. Patrick Stewart’s dad was a milkman, and he knew the whole of Julius Caesar!” he said proudly. Patrick and Brian got a scholarship to drama school.
As an actor, Brian’s voice has never been in such demand – in Netflix films, on Peppa Pig, and he’s just done Call of Duty.
“I’m a very modern man,” he laughs. He counts Kenneth Brannagh as the one actor he has a deep friendship with, but says he’s more likely to get a phone call from Buzz Aldrin – the first man on the Moon (“he’ll ring me up sometimes”).
Brian tells an epic story of heroism of his father, who he says saved hundreds of miners’ lives after dangerous gas entered the mine; he was crushed pulling boulders off four of them. Brian left school to work aged 14 to supplement his dad’s sick pay. If Brian was born of the grit of coal, he’s pressured it into diamonds.
“I’ll end on this,” Brian said, “People say isn’t it not dangerous going to Mount Everest? And I say, the greatest danger in life is not taking the adventure. Everybody’s got Everest. It can be your garden, it can be your projects, whatever it is - it might be eventually taking one more step in your Zimmer frame in hospital. The greatest danger in life is not taking the adventure.
You’ve got to go for it! And don’t let the bastards grind you down!” And with that, the interview ends. “Much love! Bye-bye!”
An Evening with Brian Blessed presented by Cause UK and the Harrogate Film Festival is on Sunday March 15 at 7pm at the Royal Hall, Harrogate.
For tickets: https://www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/An-Evening-With-Brian-Blessed or call the box office: 01423 502 116.