Brian Blessed: Absolute Pandemonium reviewed by Ruth Hobley
This review was written by a member of the Ilkley Literature Festival review team. The Review Team take part in a special reviewing workshop at the start of the Festival before attending Festival events.
Brian is late.
So late in fact that some members of the audience have begun to shuffle uncomfortably in their seats and mutter discontentedly about dinner reservations. As a long-time fan, I am beginning to worry that Brian, like Jimmy Hendrix, might not be quite to Ilkley’s tastes (particularly if he shows up 15 minutes after his allotted billing). But then the man himself arrives (a little ‘discombobulated’ to use his own apology), and my doubts are entirely eradicated as the hall erupts into one of the largest rounds of applause I can remember for someone who hasn’t yet uttered a single word.
As I imagine is the case with most people who were born after the release of Flash Gordon, I can’t actually remember the moment at which I became aware of Brian Blessed as an entity; he was mostly just an ebullient beard who now and then loomed out of the television set with a voice that reached into the stratosphere. For me, therefore, the biggest surprise of the evening is not Brian’s countless stories of adventure from Kilimanjaro to the North Pole, or the description of his less than dignified plan for the corpse of Mrs Thatcher (who knew his first job was making coffins?), or even his rendition of O Sole Mio, but the fact that Brian Blessed has been given a microphone. ‘GORDON’S ALIVE!’ must have been ringing inexplicably in the ears of people on the other side of the Pennines for days.
Listening to Brian talk is rather like listening to a beloved grandparent after a few too many brandies on Christmas day – an endlessly entertaining ramble into the unknown. As he acknowledges about 45 minutes in, we have barely even touched on the book in question, but I would be loathed to steer him back on course (particularly having witnessed his good humoured reaction to the Festival Director’s appearance onstage to call him back to reality: ‘OOH SHUT YOUR FACE!’); we are all (Brian included) having far too much fun. That the vast majority of the audience have been swept along on the crest of a Blessed wave is perhaps best evidenced by the questions, which range from a request for a selfie to a request for Brian to deliver a baby (I wonder how the conspicuously absent wife of the man in question feels about this…), and, even more unanimously, by the standing ovation he received as the evening finally, if reluctantly, drew towards a close.
What is most remarkable about Brian Blessed is that, despite turning 80 the day after his talk (‘I’M STILL SO BLOODY SEXY!’ he roars incredulously), and despite currently experiencing double-vision as a result of cosmonaut training (yes, really), he seems utterly unchanged and unchangeable; when Brian defiantly declares ‘I DON’T BELIEVE IN DEATH!’, I somehow believe him. And I envy him his apparent ability to live entirely without doubt or fear (this is a man, after all, who reportedly punched a polar bear in the face) – we could all do with living a little more like Brian from time to time. So yes he was late, and yes the talk ran over (quite considerably), but the truth is that I haven’t left the Kings Hall (or indeed many places) feeling quite so buoyed up about life in a long time. Absolute pandemonium the evening may have been, but absolute pandemonium is sometimes no bad thing, and sometimes it is exactly what is needed.
Ruth Hobley is part of the Ilkley Literature Festival review team.
Ruth is a recent graduate but still an English student at heart.