As Brian Blessed stars on Who Do You Think We Are? we caught up with the man himself for a quick chat about family, Doctor Who and why he’s had a quiet study area named after him…
My biggest love has always been space. I grew up in a mining village in South Yorkshire and every weekend the local picture house played Flash Gordon. Magnificent Buster Crabbe was Flash, but I always used to pretend to be flying Prince Vultan. I never dreamt that one day I’d actually play him.
Does your love of sci-fi extend to Doctor Who?
Yes, indeed. After I was in Z Cars, the head of BBC serials took me aside and said, “We’re thinking of having a young Doctor Who and we’d like to cast you.” But it clashed with other things.
And if they asked you now?
I’d jump at it! I think they need to re-examine his surname – “Who” is very oriental. It’s about time they had an Asian actor as the Doctor. And a female one.
Any TV turn-offs?
I get bored by most politicians and their lying. When my daughter was a baby she saw the House of Commons on TV and said, “Daddy, they’re silly, aren’t they?” I concur – Question Time sounds like a scene from Alice in Wonderland.
How did the son of a coal miner end up on stage?
I wasn’t the only one. Patrick Stewart is from a nearby village. All the miners did amateur theatre and musicals, and there wasn’t one who couldn’t spout a Shakespeare speech. My dad was crushed twice, gassed three times, but he was a clever man.
I didn’t want to find some boring king or duke or baron; I was hoping to find normal people with all their turmoil and suffering and joy. And by God, we have done! It’s more Dickensian than Dickens. Even the camera crew was weeping. They’re saying it’s the best they’ve ever filmed.
Is it true that you’re a trained cosmonaut?
Yes! To help the space programme I made a film where I simulated climbing the highest mountain on Mars, Olympus Mons, which is three times higher than Everest. So I trained with Nasa and at Space City in Moscow, and I tested prototype suits with top scientists and climbers on Réunion Island.
And that there’s a maze shaped like your face in Yorkshire?
Yes, I was Yorkshire Man of the Year in 2012 and now they’ve made a wonderful maze of me, Jeremy Clarkson and Geoffrey Boycott, all made from maize. York University has named a room after me and what do you think it’s called? The Brian Blessed Area for Quiet Study!
A Brian Blessed Area for Quiet Study? Now there’s a surprise.
Kenneth Branagh is one of the few actors I’m very close to (we have a father-son relationship) and he was asked what I’m really like. He said: “He’s the quietest man I’ve ever met.” It comes as a shock to people because I’ve often played larger-than-life characters.
What’s still on your to-do list?
I want to go to the Moon. I want to go to Mars. I want to climb one of the most dangerous mountains in the world: an active volcano in Ecuador called Sangay. It’s been erupting continuously since 1934, making the skies black for miles around.
And when it comes to the day job?
I’d like to play the last 20 years in the life of the England cricketer WG Grace, because I look exactly like him.
Brian Blessed will be taking part at the RT-sponsored Who Do You Think Are? event at this October’s The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival. The full programme is available from 9 August at: cheltenhamfestivals.com/literature