When you are the guitarist in one of the biggest selling rock groups of all time, people tend to listen to what you have to say.
Brian May is acutely aware of this. As guitar player in Queen for 41 years, 63-year-old May is one of the most instantly recognisable figures in popular music, and not just because of the trademark curly locks that have defined his look for four decades.
Yet whatever musical endeavours May has undertaken since the death of Queen singer Freddie Mercury in 1991, latterly the Hampton-born star is as renowned for his robust work supporting a cause close to his heart: animal rights.
The welfare of animals has, May says, been "a lifetime concern of mine, ever since I opened my eyes I’ve been shocked at the way humans treat animals", and he now uses his position in the public eye to champion the cause.
"Continually shocked" by the opposition he faces - "when you stand up for animals you make some very bad enemies" - May set up his own charity Save Me to promote animal welfare and today is speaking on behalf of Born Free Foundation who aim to take wildlife out of captivity and into their natural habitat.
"It’s part of a global issue, which is the fact that we really need to start changing our attitudes towards animals. I spend a lot of time lobbying.
"We do a lot of work down here at Windlesham saving animals that have been orphaned or wounded in some way and we make sure they are released back into the wild. Save Me has the same philosophy as Born Free."
May is softly spoken and his every utterance is filled with reason, which is why his opinion of the coalition government’s stance on animal welfare carries such weight.
"The people who are in control of our country are really unfriendly to animals and we are really looking at a medieval situation here. With regards to badger culling, the government is wasting our money by pursuing a course that is absolutely barbaric. If we can get through this government there has to be better times ahead."
It is refreshing to hear May criticising the establishment when many would argue he is part of it. May famously arranged and performed a version of ‘God Save the Queen’ stood atop Buckingham Palace as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebration in 2002. May says it was the highlight of his career - "like stepping off the top of Niagara Falls".
If that sounds disrespectful to his former band mates, then that isn’t how it was intended. Considering the charismatic Mercury died over 20 years ago, with millions of album sales, a hit musical and hugely successful reformation, Queen could hardly be more popular. May, humbly, tries to account for the enduring interest.
"It’s a question that is often asked, but I really don’t know. We had a great dedication to excellence and I think we were fiercely competitive with each other. People tell me we were the only group where all four members wrote a number one hit single.
"But if there is one thing I would put my finger on it is that we spoke as normal people. We didn’t really spend our time talking about what it was like to be a rock star. We spoke about the issues that affect normal people - their passions, their dreams, their hopes, their disappointments.
"I think we were a people’s band, even though there was all this pomp and circumstance to us. Basically, we were speaking for the normal person. So maybe that’s an answer."
Keen to stress Mercury hasn’t been replaced - "he will always be impossible to equal" - after a triumphant tour with Paul Rodgers, this summer May will tour Queen again with another guest vocalist, this time American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert. "He’s an extraordinary singer, extraordinary performer and a very nice man".
Queen’s headline show in Knebworth at July’s Sonisphere Festival will be particularly affecting for May - it was the scene of Freddie Mercury’s final concert and brings the two halves of May’s career poignantly together.
"It’s not just about memories of course, but it will be an interesting feeling walking onto that stage and realising that the last time we played at Knebworth was with Freddie and it was his last gig. It’s a rather fitting memorial."
Brian May is a passionate supporter of The Born Free Foundation, a leading international wildlife charity that works throughout the world to protect threatened species and to stop wild animals suffering. Please visit: www.bornfree.org.uk.
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