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Sir Christopher Lee on metal, Mordor and the meaning of Christmas

We sit down for an EXCLUSIVE interview with the man behind Saruman, Dracula and Lord Summerisle

It begins with a history lesson, his voice a melodious rumble that bears all the fruit of a near century of experience, his words emerging at the pace of someone who thinks before he speaks and with the consideration of someone who knows what he's talking about. At the moment we're talking about the historic origins of Christmas – as you do when you have a knighted actor on the line who just happens to have recorded a festive heavy metal single. In truth, though, when conversing with a man of Sir Christopher Lee's stature, you don't really do much talking at all. If you've any notion of the life he's had, all 92 years of it, you listen.

"Jesus Christ, well, he wouldn't have been called that at all," he says. "In Greek, Christos means, 'the anointed one,' so it would have been the Christ. As for the day? Well... it's more to do with ancient feasts like Beltane," he pauses, then smiles. "Christmas should be a source of joy and happiness for everyone."

And that's what brings us to this moment. Sir Christopher Lee's brand new single, Darkest Carols Angels Sing, the follow-up to last year's Jingle Hells, has just been announced. And why not discuss Christmas? By now, the heavy metal bit should surprise to no one. It was back in 2010 when Metal Hammer first crossed paths with the man who was Scaramanga opposite Roger Moore's Bond and whose Lord Summerisle will forever be etched into the minds of all who've known The Wicker Man's twisted delights. News had reached us that the one-time WWII RAF intelligence officer with mysterious ties to the SAS had just emerged from the studio, at the age of 88, with a heavy metal concept record based on the life and times of Charlemagne and was happy to tell us why. It's impossible to forget the moment that our interviewer – Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi, as it happens – asked what it was about heavy metal that Sir Christopher found so appealing. He paused for a moment, his eyes then widening and, with a slowly clenching upturned fist, simply said, "The power."

"I think I was in a car," he says of his first-ever encounter with the riffy stuff. "I wasn't driving, but it was playing and I thought, 'Well, this is certainly something new.' It appealed to me because it's different," he says. The appeal was strong enough to result in collaborations with both Rhapsody Of Fire and then Manowar, but it was really the release of Charlemagne: By The Sword And The Cross in 2010 that confirmed his commitment to the cause.  

"I have a great belief that things – no matter what they are: music, literature, anything in life – should from time to time surprise people and that's what I believe in: surprising people. Heavy metal has, since its very beginning, surprised in the best sense of the word, and people all over the world. To be involved in that, and to show people that even now I can still surprise my audience, it's very important. I've spent my entire career taking risks. Acting is a risk, it has to be. I've never been afraid, and I've done my best to take those risks."

Sir Christopher Lee accepting his Spirit Of Hammer award at the Metal Hammer Golden Gods 2010.

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