After 76 years (and 13 reincarnations) the Dalai Lama still draws a crowd ...

... and he reserved a blessing for our own Jonathan Brown at the start of his British visit

It might be a year since he announced his retirement as the temporal leader of the Tibetan people but the appeal of the Dalai Lama showed little sign of dimming yesterday as he arrived in Manchester for a 10-day visit to Britain.

Despite his growing frailty and failing eyesight, the 76-year-old, who is considered by followers to be in his 14th incarnation, continues to command international admiration for his life-long promotion of peace and personal responsibility.

During his visit to Britain he will address arena crowds of young people, share a stage with the comedian Russell Brand and appear at a sold-out Royal Albert Hall.

He spoke with optimism of his faith in the power of youth to put right the mistakes of the 20th century.

The Nobel peace laureate continues to unnerve Chinese officials wherever he goes. This week Leeds City Council distanced itself from a speech he was scheduled to give last night to business leaders in the city.

Beijing had threatened to withdraw its athletes from pre-Olympic training camps in Leeds should there be any sign of official sanction to his visit. But the exiled spiritual leader shrugged off the threat. "That is always happening, that is almost routine," he said.

The Dalai Lama shook hands and administered blessings to journalists before criticising China's "immoral" censorship policies.

Flanked by an impressive array of bodyguards – a legacy perhaps of recent attempts, he claims, to poison him by devotees trained by China – he painstakingly answered questions on everything from the plight of the eurozone to reports that he knew the CIA was funding armed resistance to the Chinese occupation of Tibet in the 1950s.

He urged the media to use their "snouts like dogs" and to have "trunks like elephants" to expose wrongdoing.

"In a democratic country I think the people should know what is the reality, what is happening and what is really going on," he said, although aides insisted that this was not a reference to the Leveson Inquiry in Britain.

On the travails of the global economy he said it was a "foolish question" to ask his advice and that he was largely ignorant on the subject. But he urged Europeans to recall how they had re-built their continent "from ashes" in 1945.

"You have experience of the First World War and the Second World War of devastation and rebuilding. Looking at Germany, they rebuilt their economy or their country from ashes from the destruction of the war, as did Japan, so why not?" he said. "Work hard with self-confidence," he added.

Asked if Western leaders were reluctant to raise issues of human rights in Tibet with the Chinese government because of fears of jeopardising trading links, he was conciliatory.

In a world which saw a new crisis emerge "nearly every month", he said there remained "genuine" support for the plight of Tibet and that politicians' reservations in dealing with Beijing were "understandable".

He also spoke of the ecological importance of the vast Tibetan plateau, which he described as the "third pole", providing water for one billion people in India, Pakistan and China. It was, he said, being affected by global warming more severely than other sensitive parts of the world.

During his stay in Britain the Dalai Lama will meet Buddhist communities as well as parliamentary leaders in London and Edinburgh.

His meeting with David Cameron in May prompted anger in Beijing, but more attention is focused this time on his decision to align himself with the controversial comedian Russell Brand at the Manchester Arena. Brand is a long-term supporter of the Free Tibet Movement.

"His holiness has devoted not just this life, but all his 14 lives to pursuing spirituality. Spirituality is not the same as religion," Brand said.

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