Monday, 17 December 2018

Mars beckons, but first there’s a play to direct!

JORDAN, Sharon Osbourne, Geri Halliwell. Good, bad or indifferent, you know someone’s made their mark when they start

JORDAN, Sharon Osbourne, Geri Halliwell. Good, bad or indifferent, you know someone’s made their mark when they start to rack up multiple autobiographies.

To be fair to Brian Blessed, he is still only on his second — having published Absolute Pandemonium: My Louder Than Life Story last October to rapturous critical acclaim and five-star reviews on Amazon.

His first autobiography, The Dynamite Kid, appeared in 1992 — nearly a quarter of a century ago — by which time Blessed had already been famous for 30 years, having gotten his big break in 1962 playing PC “Fancy” Smith in Z-Cars.

He was 25, so not quite a spring chicken. Even less so now — he will turn 80 on October 9.

Asked by a BBC interviewer how he was planning to spend his birthday, he said: “A bloody good long walk — I might do some of the summits in Wales. I shall never retire — I’m going to return to Everest.”

Everest, of course, being one of his many passions, along with space travel and the planet Mars. Unlike Mars, though, he has visited Everest three times, climbing without oxygen in the style of his childhood hero, George Mallory. So far he has narrowly failed to reach the summit — but you would never write him off.

A deadly serious mountaineer who has written books about his Everest experiences, he has reached the tops of Mount Aconcagua in Argentina and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

He is the oldest man to go to the North Magnetic Pole on foot and has undertaken an expedition into the jungles of Venezuela, during which he survived a plane crash.

Fired by a passion for the outer limits, Blessed has also completed 800 hours of space training at Star City in Russia — something he is more than happy to discuss.

“We need to get out there!” he roars. “The Earth has got to rest! We are the children of stardust, yearning for the stars — we don’t just belong here. We need to get out there, get into space!

“When I was six I heard about Mars. Oh, I wanted to go! Oh! And I was almost brokenhearted I couldn’t go to Mars.

“[Recently] I met thousands of kids at Leicester space centre — they wanna go to Mars! They want to go into the solar system!”

Ask a silly question, but is Blessed booked on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, by any chance?

“Oh, that’s Mickey Mouse!” he pooh-poohs. “No, no, no, no! I’ve been working with the Russians and Britain and America. The greatest scientists in the world are getting their ships ready for Mars. And I’ve made a film about it with them.”

Blessed says that while the documentary in question isn’t finalised yet, the title will be something along the lines of Mission to Mars.

In the meantime, though, he has another project to occupy him — at least until Saturday, September 3, when Agatha Christie’s The Hollow concludes an eight-week run at the Mill at Sonning theatre.

The play is almost Blessed’s stage directorial debut — he confesses that he put on a small production of Harold Pinter’s 1957 play The Room during his time in Stratford-upon-Avon. But after an interval of that length, The Hollow might as well be his debut.

“I thought I’d start with a simple play and then I’ll go on to Tennessee Williams — Camino Real — which has about 150 people in it. In that is Casanova, and in that Lord Byron, and Kilroy and all kinds of things — and a spaceship!

“Directors feel they can’t direct it, but I know exactly how to direct that. That will be my second play, but The Hollow’s a lovely start for me — I’m enjoying it enormously!”

All of the above is by turns exclaimed and intoned in Blessed’s characteristically emphatic actorly baritone. Exactly as seen on TV.

Mill at Sonning theatregoers will soon have the chance to experience this for themselves, as he has offered to perform his one-man show, An Evening With Brian Blessed, once The Hollow’s run finishes.

The date has yet to be confirmed, so watch this space. In the meantime, tickets for The Hollow, which start at £53, can be booked by calling the box office on 0118 969 8000 or visiting

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