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.’