One of the unexpected joys I’ve discovered since I’ve started listening to audiobooks is the self-narrated biography or memoir. There is just something about hearing the voice of the subject that really enhances the experience. This is especially so for biographies written by entertainers and performers, who naturally make excellent narrators. So far, I have enjoyed biographies read and written by Alexei Sayle, Eddie Izzard, Magda Szubanski and David Attenborough.
But there is only one so far that I would say HAS to be enjoyed in the audiobook format – and that’s the memoir of BRIAN BLESSED!
And if you were wondering, yes, I still had my hearing by the end of the book.
‘I want to leap out of the page at you!’ he exclaims early on into his narration and does he what! His narration is so much more than just reading out loud to you. Listening to this book is like having your old grandad exuberantly telling you stories of his past while sitting in the comfiest chair in your lounge, cheerfully helping himself to all your tea and bikkies. Despite the fact that Brian yells, bellows, swears and laughs his way through the narration, his voice can be oddly comforting.
And he tells some bloody great stories too. The book opens with an anecdote about his attempt to climb Mt Everest, and his desperate need to take a shit. His relationships with both Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn are both recalled lovingly, despite the sometimes volatile clashes he suffered from the former. But the one incident in particular that had me in stitches comes from his time working in a funeral home as a boy, where an embalming mishap turns the corpse of one of the towns wealthiest men green.
But Brian Blessed is not just made up of jovial, boisterous bouncing energy. There is also a calmer side to him. He’s a teetotaller vegetarian, who practices meditation. He also confesses that deep down he is a bit of a loner, and despite his noisy persona, he really appreciates silence. He gives me the impression that he’s actually quite introverted. He can also be endearingly eccentric – he cheerfully details, while acknowledging how outlandish it sounds, his memories of being born.
‘I assure you it is all perfectly true!’
But just like your old grandpa’s reminiscences in the lounge room, things tend to be a bit free-flowing; jumping rapidly across different time points, especially later on in the book. While this meandering can sometimes make the narrative drag, it also leads to strangely poignant pieces. One notable example occurs near the end of the book, where he spends a whole chapter mediating on death. That funeral home incident involving the green corpse? That’s capped at each end with stories involving the deaths of family and friends. ‘Not even I could make that story a comedy’ he confesses, on having to make a coffin for one of his teen friends. ‘But through pain, comes strength.’ But despite this brief dip into melancholy, you’ll be swung around again before the end of the chapter to a story involving a man being killed by his own wind machine and extras dropping dead.
‘One minute, he was having a coffee, and the next, he was fuck-offy! Gone! Right in front of the press!’
Even if you’re not hugely familiar with most of Brian’s career, I would still recommend the audiobook of Absolute Pandemonium if you’re willing to experience having a memoir performed at you. It is highly enjoyable.
…Sorry, could not help myself…