1. He's the son of coal miner William Blessed who lived until he was 102 – and Brian's dad also inspired his love of the stage

Brian said: "He was a coal hewer who would dig out between eight and 12 tonnes of coal a day.

"He was down there with thousands of coal miners but the extraordinary thing in that Don and Dearne Valley was the miners also did operas, musicals and plays. My dad could spout the whole of Hamlet."

2. Brian had wanted to play Vultan in Flash Gordon since he was eight – and the part has led to some extraordinary encounters

He said: "There was no television of course but we had our wooden radios and we had The War of the Worlds, The Lost World, Dick Barton Special Agent and Paul Temple. And at the two cinemas each week you’d have Flash Gordon.

"It was the black and white version with Buster Crabbe. As a little lad of about eight I’d always pretend to be Vultan

"I’d never dreamt that eventually I’d be playing him in a film but now everywhere in the world I go everyone I meet from taxi drivers and bakers to queens, kings and admirals all want me to shout Gordon’s Alive which is amazing.

"In later years when I went to the North Pole – I’m the oldest man to reach the North Pole – I got there and within 20 miles of the Magnetic North Pole a great Typhoon submarine broke through the ice.

"There were 11 of us. We were rejoicing because we were quite close to the Pole and out got the captain and he said: ‘It’s him’!

"He asked me to shout ‘Gordon’s Alive’ and so I did and then he let me take a look in the submarine."

3. His childhood friend was Patrick Stewart

Brian said: "He’d pop along and we’d go and watch amateur theatre and go on drama courses in the Calder Valley.

"He was the son of a milkman, I was the son of a coal hewer. It was inconceivable that we’d ever get a scholarship to a drama school.

"Quite suddenly I had to do my national service and then they granted me a scholarship in Wakefield.

"I couldn’t thank them enough. It was a miracle. It had never happened in our valley before to give a working-class boy a scholarship. I owe so much to Wakefield, Yorkshire and the north."

4. He is a trained cosmonaut and wants to explore space within six months.

Brian said: “Extraordinarily I’ve been in a lot of space films but I completed my own space training about nine months ago. I did 900 hours training at Star

City in Russia and with NASA on Réunion Island which is on a volcano.

"I’m pointing the way to space so I’m on The Infinite Monkey Cage frequently with Professor Brian Cox. I’ve even had Stephen Hawking ring me up.

“Most of my friends are scientists and cosmonauts and explorers so life is very full.”

5. Brian appeared in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace as Boss Nass – but George Lucas originally wanted him to play a Jedi

He said: "Because of my love of space, George Lucas was intrigued, and he and I would go for long walks.

"At first he wanted me to be a Jedi Knight in it"

Both men came to the conclusion that a character who is ‘gentle, quiet, still and philosophical’ would not make the most of Brian’s unique skills so he portrayed Boss Nass, the leader of the Gungans.

Brian added: "He wanted me to work with the special effects team because it required tremendous imagination to develop this character.

"I remember the tremendous moment when the Jedi go and see him to ask him if he’ll commit himself to fight the dark forces.

"It was a very flattering scene because the queen and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn are down on their knees. George said it had to be a big moment so I made this strange sound and begun shaking my head.

"Everybody collapsed with laughter and cheered and George said that’s exactly what I wanted you mad man.

"He phoned me up and said: 'Do you realise what you did with your face is going to cost nearly half a million quid in special effects to match your character's mouth?' They all want my voice and physique so it’s impossible for me to retire."

6. He met the Met Dalai Lama the first time he attempted to climb Everest – and asked him a very personal question

Brian said: "I said to him: ‘How have you managed without sex all these years?’Everyone nearly fainted but the Dalai Lama roared with laughter.

"He said: ‘Sometimes it’s difficult. When I think of a beautiful woman I do my mantras louder'. I spent five days with him and it was an amazing experience.

"His great hero was Joe Louis. He had Joe Louis’s boxing gloves and I let him hit me on the chin.

"Considering that he’s a man who’s timeless his other great hobby is mending watches and clocks."

7. The 81-year-old is determined to live a long life

Brian said: "I’m dead against this age crap. Forty is not middle-aged. Forty is young.

"In this day and age now those people are going to live to 130, 140 or 150 and we do need to get into space because we’re going to have a huge population. The secret is a love of life and not being too restricted and not being retired.

"You see these terrible adverts on TV about having an insurance policy to pay for your coffin and your funeral. You might as well dig a hole and jump in it."

  • Brian Blessed will be talking about his life at Parr Hall on September 20. Visit pyramidparrhall.com