The son of William Blessed, a socialist miner, and Hilda Wall, Blessed was born in the town of Goldthorpe near Mexborough, England. He attended Bolton on Dearne Secondary Modern School, but after his father suffered an industrial accident, he was forced to leave school early at 14 and spent several years working at a variety of jobs, ranging from undertaker to plasterer’s assistant. At the age of eighteen, he suffered a nervous breakdown, from which he gradually recovered with the help of friends and family. He completed his National Service as a parachutist in the Royal Air Force. He began his acting training at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, alongside Patrick Stewart. He has written about his early life in his autobiography, Dynamite Kid (1992).
Blessed is well know and renowned for his acting in diverse roles from – the Duke of Exeter in Branagh’s version of Henry V to Prince Vultan in Flash Gordon. But we are here to explore the other Brian Blessed:
Blessed is also an adventurer. He climbed Mont Blanc at the age of seventeen, and he has remained an active mountaineer throughout his life. He has attempted to climb Mount Everest on three separate occasions, but has never reached the summit. During his attempt in 1991, the then 55-year-old climbed higher than any other man of his age; the height record was later broken by Sir Ranulph Fiennes in 2009. He has successfully climbed Aconcagua in Argentina as well as Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. He also holds the record for being the oldest man to trek on foot to the magnetic North Pole, and has undertaken an expedition deep into the jungles of Venezuela.
He also has an honorary position as official Shoutsperson of the University of York’s Douglas Adams Society, and in 2011 the student body voted to name a new study space as the ‘Brian Blessed Centre for Quiet Study’.
In 2004, he sang on Celebrity Stars in Their Eyes as Luciano Pavarotti. Blessed is also known for his football knowledge and appeared as an expert on the British satellite station UKTV G2 during the 2006 World Cup. He also appeared on A Question of Sport in 2006 and again in 2011 and was a guest host of Have I Got News for You in May 2008 alongside guests Alan Duncan and Marcus Brigstocke (also making a surprise appearance in the Christmas special later in the year). His madcap manner quickly made the show deviate from its usual format, with Paul Merton remarking “Does anyone remember how this show used to be like?”. In the same month he appeared as a guest on The Paul O’Grady Show.
He was President of the Television and Radio Industries Club (TRIC) 2007-2008, and presented the 2008 TRIC Awards at the Grosvenor House, Park Lane. TRIC is an organisation which honours achievers in the film and radio industries. He has honorary degrees from the University of Bradford, awarded in July 2003, and Sheffield Hallam University, awarded in 2004.
He also stars in the Living Legend show in Jersey, Channel Islands. It features many celebrity faces, such as Roger Lloyd Pack, Samantha Janus, Kevin Whately and Tony Robinson. The story is of the history of the island.
In 2009, he featured on the debut album Beneath the Veiled Embrace by UK power-metal band Pythia, with a reading of “Suicide in the Trenches” by Siegfried Sassoon, on the song “Army of the Damned”.
In June 2011, a campaign by Cambridge graduates resulted in Blessed’s being nominated for the post of Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, which fell vacant with the retirement of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, on reaching the age of ninety.
Edited from Brian Blessed