Brian May: “I lost my Dad, my marriage and the band…” – Interview


I lost my dad, my marriage and the band… I thought about suicide but Anita saved me

Daily Mirror 16 May 02
Nina Myskow

Brian May - black and white

BRIAN MAY is exhausted. His face, framed by the notorious wild mane of hair is pale, the features look drawn. 

The legendary guitarist of rock band Queen has had little sleep for weeks.

We Will Rock You, the spectacular West End musical which features 31 Queen hits set to a new story by Ben Elton opened last night, and since January, Brian has devoted every waking moment to it.

As co-producer with Robert De Niro he is at the theatre day and night, dedicated and completely obsessed.

But working so hard he is absolutely exhilarated. “It’s insane,” he tells me happily, backstage at the Dominion Theatre as the sound of We Are The Champions pounds through the building.

“You just chuck food down yourself. I don’t even have time to go to the toilet, for heaven’s sake. And yet I feel great. Very focused and very fortunate.”

He looks good too, despite the fatigue. At 54, ludicrously he still looks as he always has done.

But the way he feels is in stark contrast to how he was for most of the last decade. Freddie Mercury’s tragic death from Aids in 1991 sparked off a depression that culminated in a breakdown four years ago and thoughts of suicide.

“I’m sitting here smiling, and very happy now. But back then I could never have imagined it,” he tells me somewhat hesitantly. Always polite and highly intelligent he is, at heart, a very private man.

“I thought my life was over. I was totally and utterly depressed, I mean real, proper depression. When you literally can’t get out of bed, you just want to pull the covers over.

“It’s like you’re paralysed. I found I couldn’t see colour. There was no colour in the world, literally. Even music didn’t get to me in the worst moments. Depression would clamp down like a fog. Black fog.

“I can remember looking up at planes and thinking, ‘My God, somebody built that plane, somebody is flying it. They’ve had the strength to achieve things. I don’t even know how to get breakfast inside me. How can people be so in control of their lives?”

Anita and Brian - black and white

FREDDIE’S death was not the only disaster that Brian had to contend with that year.

“My father died, and everything happened at once,” he says, looking bleak. “I lost one of my closest friends, I lost the band, which was like a family, I lost my marriage. All in the same year.

“I have great strength, a strong optimistic side, but because I didn’t really deal with the loss, I was carrying this low-grade depression for a long time. And much later, when I came to the complete crisis, I’d lost my Mum too.”

He tried many forms of therapy, but ultimately they didn’t help. In utter despair, Brian checked himself into Cottonwood, a clinic in Arizona, where nobody knew who he was. “I was in with people in a similar position, but also drug addicts and alcoholics and people with food disorders.

“It’s the same thing, you’ve lost yourself. It’s a loss of self. You realise you’re not the only person who is suffering.”

Brian had always avoided taking medication. He has never taken drugs. “I know people find hard to believe. That’s what they said to me when I was in. ‘Really? A rock guitarist! Are you telling us the truth?’ I was like, It’s just not the way I am.'” He resisted taking antidepressants until his final week. When he gave in, the results were disastrous.

“They made me 100 times worse. I was shaking. I had this out-of-body feeling the whole time, my whole insides went, I couldn’t keep any food in me,” he says.

“But the moment when I said to myself, ‘I ain’t gonna do this,’ was the moment I started to feel better. I started to walk forward in the right direction.

“It was the beginning of a new life. Wipe the slate clean. I was a new person. Now I’m incredibly productive, very enthusiastic, very happy. I’m not religious, but I thank God every day.” His long-standing relationship with actress Anita Dobson, whom he’d met in the Eighties when she was starring as Angie in EastEnders, took on a new lease of life as well.

“She’s incredible,” he says, a smile lighting up his face. “If I didn’t have Anita, all the therapy in the world wouldn’t sort me. If she wasn’t by my side now, I wouldn’t be in this state. She’s somehow part of me.

“I’m very logical. I had a scientific upbringing, and I’m not the kind of person who would say anything like this lightly, but there is a supernatural force at work, as far as I’m concerned, with Anita.

“Any time that I’ve tried to turn my back on her in the smallest possible way, my guts fall out.

“Ever since I first set eyes on her, she’s been an essential part of my life. Even my mum used to say, ‘There’s a kind of sunshine that flows out of Anita.’ And once you’ve experienced it, you can’t do without it.” He shrugs his shoulders and admits:

“When she gets pissed off with me, the world goes black, it really does. The thread is very strong.” When they met, Brian’s life was turned upside down. He was married with three children and the trauma of the split still haunts him.

“It was utter hell for three years,” he says. “Sheer pain. To contemplate not waking up with your kids is unthinkable. Anyone who finds themselves in that position can never forgive themselves. I don’t know if I have still, really. But I know in my heart there was no other way.”

Now he talks proudly, like any parent, of how well they are doing. And he and Anita finally married secretly in November 2000.

“It was just for us,” he says. “We looked each other in the eye, and made the full commitment, and it’s been great. It was a big thing for me. I’d already failed in a marriage, so I wasn’t going to go into it without a great deal of thought. But it’s strengthened our relationship beyond belief.”

Now he feels he’s achieved balance in his life between home, children and work. A balance that has been thrown temporarily off, because the musical is so demanding. Six years in development, at a cost of £7.5 million. He is a lovely man, sweet-natured, thoughtful and utterly genuine.

Ben Elton, Robert De Niro and Brian May - black and white

PASSIONATE about the young cast, he describes vividly the standing ovation they got on Parkinson, taped for screening on May 18.

“It gave me the shivers,” he says. “When Freddie died, we all thought it was the end. And it was, the end of an era. But something does live on in this.

“Nobody could sing like Freddie, but nobody is trying. The whole thing is steeped in the spirit of Queen, and Freddie is part of that. He is in there loud and clear.” It is obvious that Brian still misses Freddie. “But most of the time I have very happy memories,” he says fondly.

“And the memories of those times when he was in pain have faded a bit. He coped incredibly with his illness. He never, ever complained about it in my hearing.

“He was always, like ‘Oh, f*** it, this is what I have. Don’t let’s talk about that. We’ll get on and do some music.”

They spent a lot of time together in Switzerland in Montreux, where Queen have studio. They’d go out for dinner. Freddie loved having a glass of wine and a chat. There would be odd times when he was well enough to work.

“He’d down a couple of vodkas, prop himself up at the desk, and go for it like never before,” says Brian, shaking his head in astonishment.

“The last thing he ever sang was Mother Love. He was going for it harder and higher and more passionate than ever. He got to the penultimate verse and said, ‘I can’t do any more. I’ll come back and finish it another day when I feel good.’ But he never did.

“I love the last song he wrote, A Winter’s Tale. It doesn’t philosophise, it’s just about how beautiful life is. He wrote it one morning, beside the lake and looking at the mountains.

“It just beams out, he had this wonderful acceptance. Even a kind of joy about it. ‘This is my life, and I’ve lived it to the full.’ Which he did. Absolutely.

“What would Freddie think about the musical?” Brian laughs out loud. “Oh, he’d be so thrilled that the music was living on in this way. He’d be happy to pass it on too the next generation, like I am. Just so proud.

“Ah, he would love it! In fact, I know that he is loving it some place. He absolutely is. I’m certain of that.”

Source: Daily Mirror 16 May 02