POSTED DECEMBER 1 2010
BRIAN BLESSED 'THROTTLES' SAVOY DINER AND STORMS OUT OF SPEAKING ENGAGEMENT AFTER BEING TOLD FLASH GORDON WAS 'C**P'
Always leave your audience wanting more, the actor’s adage goes.
But Brian Blessed didn’t even give them a taste.
The Shakespearean actor stormed out of an after-dinner speaking engagement at the Savoy moments before he was due to take the stage.
And the reason? A guest sitting at the same table had declared that the 1980 film Flash Gordon, in which he starred as the bird-like Prince Vultan, was ‘c**p’.
Blessed, 74, is said to have grabbed the offender around the throat and boomed ‘I am not standing for this!’ before walking out.
It is thought that he believed the man had insulted him using a particularly offensive word, though this has been disputed by those sitting at the table.
Around 450 guests, including executives from Coca-Cola, Heineken, Nestle and Mars, had paid up to £2,300 per table to attend the black tie dinner for the Federation of Wholesale Distributors last Thursday.
Blessed had been due to speak for at least half an hour but organisers were left with no choice but to move straight to a charity raffle and then cut proceedings short. They are being refunded his £6,500 booking fee. Blessed, who has appeared in theatre, film and TV for more than 40 years, is marketed for after-dinner speeches as a ‘national treasure’.
His booking agency website says he is ‘unmistakable thanks to his physical stature, bushy beard and booming voice’.
It highlights his role in Flash Gordon in which, as Prince Vultan, he utters the often quoted line: ‘Gordon’s alive!’
Blessed had been due to speak about his acting career and adventures as a mountaineer and explorer.
An event source said: ‘He was just about to be announced to give his after-dinner speech when he grabbed a guy at our table round the throat.
‘He seemed to be in a very good mood all evening and then he just flipped. The guy admits saying that he thought Flash Gordon was c**p but that is all. Blessed claimed that the guy on his table had called him a ****. It was a small table and the guy in question and others dispute this.
'We were all looking forward to hearing Blessed.
‘Somebody who had heard him speak before said that he was good, telling stories about his acting days and adventures in his famous booming voice. But we did not get the chance to find out.’
The man said to have provoked Blessed, a retail executive who did not want to be named, said: ‘All I said was that I did not rate Flash Gordon, that I thought it was c**p.
‘Blessed got upset, grabbed me and walked out. I honestly don’t know why. I certainly did not call him any names. I had my group managing director sitting next to me.’
Another guest told how Blessed had been in excellent form before the incident.
‘I had been speaking to Brian before the dinner and he was very chatty,’ he said. ‘But just as the last of the awards had been given out, he suddenly got up and just walked out. He looked a bit scruffy. He had trainers on and I thought he had been caught unawares and had gone out to change or go to the toilet before he spoke. But he never came back.
‘The MC on the stage was very surprised because he was just about to introduce him.
‘He jumped into his chauffeur-driven car and took off. He still had the sound microphone on him.’
Blessed was booked through London-based celebrity bookings specialist JLA, which also has Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen, QI host Stephen Fry and actress Joanna Lumley on its books. JLA refused to comment. Blessed’s agent Stephen Gittins said the actor had been too busy with work to discuss the incident with him.
Blessed is known for straight talking. When asked whether he was looking forward to co-starring with Pamela Anderson in the pantomime Aladdin last year, he replied: ‘Pamela ****ing Anderson? I wouldn’t touch her with yours. I’ve starred alongside Sophia Loren.’
POSTED NOVEMBER 24 2010
The 20th year of JLA’s Real Variety Show kicked off with an introductory video of the great and the good who have graced this showcase. The show’s alumni include tonight’s host Alistair McGowan, Bill Bailey, Armando Iannucci, Jimmy Carr, Dara O’Briain and Michael McIntyre, to name but a few.
McGowan opened the show by reprising the Chris Eubank impression we had seen in the video. He was then careful to come up to date with warm, if not always completely winning, impressions, including riffs on William Hague morphing into Gary Barlow and Fabio Capello with his broken English.
Once McGowan became himself again, the first of his charges out of the trap was the dependable Canadian comedian Stewart Francis. This dry and self-deprecating gagsmith set the bar for quality with his jokes, including: “So what if I can’t spell Armageddon? It’s not the end of the world.”
Next up to squeeze their essence in to a seven-and-a-half minute slot was Irish comedy hip hop duo Abandoman. The pair won this year’s Hackney Empire New Act of the Year competition and fared well at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Though their charms did not work on me, I felt sorry for them having such a short time to peddle their improvised comedy raps. Nevertheless, they managed to win the crowd over - even if this just meant parroting back buzzwords related to the working life of ‘volunteers’ from the audience.
Sarah Millican, meanwhile, is someone who deservedly enjoyed an even better Edinburgh fringe, with a nomination for the Fosters Comedy Award. Her piercing Geordie voice seemed momentarily like it might be too much of a contrast with Abandoman’s rap rhythm, but Millican’s canny comedy was soon pressing the buttons of the (largely female) audience - with jokes about the etiquette of putting on a bra and about loving a pet so much you can see the whites of its eyes from stroking it too much.
Oompah Brass, resplendent in their lederhosen, kept time until the interval with their brass-band renditions of pop hits, including Britney Spears’ Toxic, without ever threatening to build upon this comic juxtaposition with any in-between comic banter.
Sharp-suited Mod, Ian Moore opened the second half with his take on being an Englishman abroad (he lives in France) and having to cope with young offspring who can speak better French than he does. Though a self-confessed hater of enthusiasm, Moore further warmed the room with his notion that self-service tills in supermarkets mean that we have all fallen short of the dreams we had at school of escaping mundanity.
Six-strong a capella group the Magnets used their brief time well, with a set piece medley that went through movie themes. Dirty Dancing’s (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life morphed into Easy Rider’s Born to Be Wild. The Great Escape theme was accompanied by a military dance routine and Indiana Jones included a choreographed sequence of extravagant deaths. Meanwhile, the idea that Sex and the City is the troupe’s favourite film got a justifiably big and incredulous laugh.
Micky Flanagan, who followed, made sure that the energy in the room was kept up, by briskly going in to a mimic of a ‘cockney walk’. He then revealed his own strict adherence to cockney values by relating the perils of ordering tomato sauce to go with a posh restaurant risotto. Not only a dab hand at punctuating the pomposity of others, Flanagan is self-deprecating and expresses a hilarious relief when a bouncer refuses him entry to a club that he no longer feels young enough to go to anyway.
One could surmise from this that Flanagan might have found the energy of hip hop dance troupe Boy Blue too much. But he most likely joined the rest of the audience in being moved by their street dance medley set to Messrs Timbaland, Tinie Tempah and Steve Winwood vs Eric Prydz.
Terry Alderton closed the show with his manic stylings. Alderton’s performance included his neurotic one-man duologues, in which he turned his back to the audience and the voices inside his head discussed with him how well certain jokes went and which audience member he should interact with next. For a shtick that is so unnerving, Alderton is very entertaining and adept at building the kind of energy that his inherently erratic act needs.
All told, this was a varied and enjoyable showcase for the casual and professional observer alike, and there is no doubt some of these appearances will be gracing the introductory video for JLA’s 25th year.
POSTED AUGUST 19 2010
Gordon Brown to hit the lecture circuit - at £64,000 a go
By TIM SHIPMAN
Gordon Brown is planning to cash in on his time in power by demanding £64,000 for speaking engagements in the Middle East and Asia.
The former prime minister told voters he would devote himself to good works after he left Downing Street, rather than hit the lecture circuit like Tony Blair.
But he has been taken on by a major international speakers' bureau, which is offering his services at $100,000 a time.
He will address corporate events and private audiences on the lessons of the financial crisis - the subject of the book he is writing, to be published in the autumn.
Anyone wishing to hire him will have to pay for five-star hotel accommodation, a first-class seat plus three in business class for members of his entourage.
A spokesman for Mr Brown indicated last night that he is planning the public speaking spree when he has finished his book.
Mr Brown's fee is considerably less than the sums attracted by Tony Blair, who reportedly pocketed $400,000 for a single speech in the Far East - around £250,000.
Mr Blair has accumulated private wealth of more than £20million since he left office.
His successor spent much of his political career stressing his frugal upbringing and lack of interest in the trappings of power.
He said in April: 'Sarah and I might do charity or voluntary work, I don't want to do business or anything else. I just want to do something good.'
However Mrs Brown is also being touted as an optional extra for her husband's speeches.
The Spectator reported that for $20,000 - around £13,000 - she will present a prize at ceremonies where Mr Brown speaks.
JLA - Britain's biggest speakers' agency - expressed surprise that Mr Brown is putting himself forward for engagements and denied that he was on its books.
POSTED MAY 24 2010
'You'll be expected to say a few words after dinner,' is, for many people, one of the most feared phrases in the English language - on a par with a pilot announcing: 'We're about to make this landing on water.'
If this is you, help is at hand. JEREMY LEE is founder of JLA (jla.co.uk), which represents some of the world's leading afterdinner speakers - such as Mikhail Gorbachev, William Hague, Ian Hislop, Mary Portas and Gabby logan.
Here, he reveals the secret of a successful speech.
IT COULD BE YOU
We are called upon to speak in public far more often than we think. Most jobs involve speaking to colleagues or management meetings and in many occupations, such as teaching and the law, it's done on a daily basis. Even if this isn't you, weddings, work leaving speeches and even family get-togethers often require some form of public speaking. The truth is we could all do better by following some basic rules. One of the most common mistakes is misjudging the audience; telling them something that is entirely irrelevant to them.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Whether it's 2,000 people in a conference centre or ten in a community centre, it's essential to be aware of who you're talking to. Think about who they are, where they're from, what they are expecting and what binds them together. This will give you an insight into how to approach your speech. At a wedding, people will be more interested in hearing stories about the happy couple than in anything you can tell them about you.
Avoid cliches like the plague. Stock jokes and phrases often go down badly and can produce groans from the audience - which will certainly put you off your stride. If you're nervous about remembering what you want to say, read from a script. It may not be the most scintillating performance, but at least you'll say the right thing. When you become more experienced, you may wish to progress to a single cue card, with bullet points to spark your memory. If you do need a manuscript, hold it at chest height so you're not constantly looking down. Don't learn your lines verbatim, as it usually leads to memory failure.
Screen your material so that you don't offend anyone and check your material for duration. If you're not a seasoned speaker, don't go on for more than ten minutes. On average, you get through 130 words in a minute. A good rule of thumb is to work out how long your speech is and then cut it in half.
A little stress can make you sharper. A lot can turn you into quivering jelly. But friendly interaction can relax you. Smile at the audience and you'll get a smile back. When we're nervous our breathing becomes fast and shallow, meaning you're likely to garble. Take deep breaths to moderate this. As far as alcohol is concerned, the rule is one glass only. Try your speech out on someone, but not people who will only compliment. You need constructive criticism.
Use some of your best material at the beginning. If you don't grab people from the start, they'll start talking. In the middle you can vary the pace and tone. Your speech should tell the audience something they don't know about something or someone they do know. End on something powerful, either a laugh or a call to action. That way you'll keep them hooked.
POSTED APRIL 13 2010
POSTED MARCH 14 2010
Mr Lee said that there are many Welsh voices on the circuit whose profiles – and fees – are rising.
He said: “It is interesting that we are hearing more Welsh accents on the circuit, that is true.
“But to some extent, someone like Rhod Gilbert has become a huge hit on the corporate circuit before his public fame, just because he is a funny man.
“He made his name well before making his name in the media – we are the biggest at what we do and we have championed Rhod for a few years so his profile was perhaps only bigger in Wales than on our circuit.
“People just seem to like hearing a Welsh accent. It’s rather nice to hear it and one could argue that it lends itself well to storytelling.”
The kind of people that might hire some of Wales’ finest range from corporations throwing swanky functions, an organisation’s awards ceremony and even some individuals’ lavish parties.
“Why would you book famous people?” said Mr Lee.
“There are only two rational reasons, every other reason is irrational,
“You either want to put bums on seats or impress your audience so much that they go home, lean over their garden fence and say ‘guess who I saw last night’.
“If you take Ian Hislop as an example – a speaker of his calibre tells the audience something they didn’t know, about someone or something they do know.
“It is his insider’s take on what many people see on Have I Got News For You and what happens in all the Private Eye libel cases. He will give you stuff that you wouldn’t have read elsewhere.
“Rob Brydon is a fantastic awards host. Perhaps a bit of his popularity is connected to Gavin & Stacey, but he had made his mark on this circuit long before that show.
“He can read an audience and the popularity of Gavin & Stacey probably helps in this respect because the audience instantly warms to his character – and how can that be anything other than good effect on a non-Welsh audience?
“I’m a believer that generally, nationality is irrelevant when it comes to whether someone is funny or not.
“But with some it informs their humour. Rhod Gilbert plays up the naïve Welsh village idea and bases his comedy on that with enormous flair. And he will see that as profile increases more likely the ‘market’ will be at work and he could command higher fees.
“Hopefully, there will be many more Welsh comedians following in footsteps of Gilbert and Brydon as they have fulfilled a very useful purpose.”
Other Welsh figures available for hire include several BBC presenters – Today programme host John Humphrys, newscaster Huw Edwards, BBC Wales news presenter Sian Williams and Middle East correspondent Jeremy Bowen.
This is despite the BBC ordering that the agency removes news presenters’ details from its website and issuing a ban on personal appearances without permission – and on the proviso that it does not affect the Corporation’s impartiality.
Bosses have been worried that presenters are seen to be cashing in while swingeing cuts are made to services – like controversial plans to close digital radio station 6 Music and the Asian Network.
But if you are looking for a bargain presenter for your party, look no further than Cardiff’s own Lynn Bowles – the Radio 2 morning traffic reporter is one of only a handful to fall into the E bracket and is available for a snip at “up to £1,000”.
POSTED MARCH 7 2010
BIG-EARNING Jeremy Paxman is leading a stampede of BBC news stars to earn a bit extra on the side - and boy do they charge!
While lowlier Beeb staff face cutbacks and job losses, a News of the World investigation reveals Newsnight hardnut Paxo pulls £25,000 AN HOUR for personal appearances on top of his £1 million taxpayer-funded salary.
Our photo gallery price list shows colleagues like Huw Edwards and The One Show grouch Adrian Chiles command similar fees for speaking engagements on the side. Even lowly Radio 2 travel girl Lynn Bowles cops a traffic-stopping £1,000 a time.
Since 2003 BBC rules have decreed staff must ask permission first and should NOT sign up with agencies to promote their services. But prominent corporate agent JLA represents dozens and has only just been forced to remove news presenters and reporters from its website. But it adds: "They are still permitted to take on outside engagements providing it fits BBC guidelines - and many are keen to do so."
Profiles of Paxman, Business Editor Robert Peston and talk show host Andrew Marr have already vanished from the site but a JLA agent assured an undercover reporter they were ALL up for hire.
The Beeb, which announced sweeping cutbacks this week, including the closure of BBC6 Music and the Asian Network and the trimming of BBC online, does not want to risk fresh controversy after weeks of negative headlines.
A BBC source told us last night: "The bosses are going to be jumping all over this. They never used to worry about the news guys going out and earning a bit extra. But with all the controversy over cost-cutting and big salaries it's a sensitive climate at the moment.
"Now these gigs have to be cleared by management and can be really frowned upon."