OK! Magazine (19 June 98)
“Tin toys and Star Wars memorabilia”
Issue 115, 19 June 1998
Brian May: The Legendary Rock Star at home in Surrey
As he releases his first album for six years, the guitarist talks about his family, Anita Dobson – and life after QueenFeature by Martin Townsend
Photographs by Denis O’Regan
Transcribed by Jen Tunney
Brian May’s home is a testament to a lifetime of boyish enthusiasm. An avid collector of everything from Victorian stereographs by Mr T R Williams [whom he plans to write about] to tin toys and Star Wars memorabilia, his imposing Surrey mansion reveals unlikely treasures at every turn.
On the coffee table in his lounge lies the neck of the guitar which he famously made with his late father. It is being lovingly renovated by an Australian expert who has a workshop in the house.‘I live in the midst of a lot of dream-fulfilment type things’, says Brian, 50, who lives here and in London with actress Anita Dobson, ‘and I’m very lucky to be able to do that.’ His emotional life, though, seems less fulfilled. As he releases a new solo album called Another World, Brian reflects on success, marriage and parenthood – and the tragic death of drummer Cozy Powell, whose last work is heard on the new album
How did you year that Cozy had died?
“I was in Africa with my kids because I’d taken them on safari. Julie [Brian’s PA] rang and said, ‘I’ve got bad news’ – and you know how your stomach drops? She said: ‘Cozy’s been killed in a car crash.’ I really couldn’t take it in. It seemed very unreal. But every morning after that I woke up and it hit me.
I’m a very up-and-down kind of person. I can only work at certain times. I get very depressed, quite often, and Cozy could always lift you out of it. He always made you feel things were worthwhile. He took a great pride in his drumming and really there were very, very few like him. John Bonham was one. A massive, heavy drummer and one of the originators of the style – and Cozy was another.”
Death has cast a long shadow over the last decade. Has it changed your outlook?
‘You grow up, don’t you? When you’re young and full of enthusiasm and drive and ambition and stuff, death is happening to the older generation, to your mum and dad’s generation, and you think it’s far enough away not to affect you. But you get to our age and suddenly you’re in the thick of it… You’re about to lose friends all around you. I look at everyone in a different light now and I think, I’m so lucky to be with you.’
Were you able to have any sort of a normal life during those years of Queen endlessly touring and recording?
“It’s very hard to adapt back to normal life. I was married [to Chrissie Mullen] and I had kids and the marriage survived the whole touring life really well. It was only when I stopped touring that things fell apart, because we couldn’t adapt to living ‘a normal life’. I don’t think I’ve totally got over it to this day, and it’s – what? – 12 years ago. People thought I’d defined myself in terms of being a rock star, but I defined myself as a husband and a dad, above everything else. You look in the mirror and you’re utterly surprised that you look like a whole person, because you feel like you’re not there. My dad died about the same time, and we also realised that Freddie wasn’t right, so my whole world, in various pieces, was gone.
This house is great now; it’s full of people and stuff goes on and I love it. But at that time it was just me and the house. It was such a low point. Queen weren’t touring by that time and it was a strange lull in everything. There were no distractions and you need distractions. Being busy is one of the great therapies, isn’t it?”
Was there ever a question of just simply going back to your wife?
“Yes, there was the question, but it was just not possible – mainly because I’d fallen in love with someone else [Anita Dobson]“
But Anita didn’t live with you in this house during that low period?
‘Well, to tell the truth I was so sort-of imbued with morality and guilt and stuff, even though I was in love with Anita I couldn’t admit it to myself. I thought, this is just a period you’re going through, Brian – you just have to sit on your own for a while and let the river flow. I didn’t allow myself to be with her.’
You’re not a Catholic, are you?
“No, it’s funny, my parents were not religious, they were just very, very I suppose ‘moralistic’ is the word. Very straight. Particularly my dad. The two worst things I ever did in his eyes were; one, give up my academic career [Brian once planned a career in astronomy] to become a pop star; and two, living with a woman. It turned out to be the woman I was going to marry, but he was outraged. We more or less didn’t speak for a year or so. It drove my mum round the bend.
It’s very ironic – my dad was always trying to stop me going into the rock business but he built my guitar – the thing that propelled me into it – with me.”
So tell me about this very moralistic man meeting Freddie Mercury? I mean, presumably Freddie – coming from a very strict background himself – was always on his best behaviour when meeting older people?
“Yes. But he was always on his worst behaviour towards his mum. There’s a lot to understand with Freddie. He got on well with my dad and always respected him. And he respected his parents, too, but if his mum was coming to the show he’d always go, ‘Oh mother’s in the audience tonight. I must throw in a few extra swearwords.’ It sounds funny but there was a serious side to it because Freddie was a free spirit more than anyone I’ve ever known – and that’s his legacy to us. Most of us worry about being unpopular or letting people down. Fred – no, never. If he didn’t consider anything was right for him, then he’d just say no. It’s a talent, and a real strength. He took hold of his life, whatever it cost him.”
When did you take hold of your life?
“I’m still trying.”
The interesting thing about Anita and yourself is that everyone said it wouldn’t last – rock star runs off with soap star.
[Laughs] “Well, I guess I’m surprised that it’s lasted. We have an incredible attraction to each other, a huge need for each other, which no one else can fulfil, but all the time life is telling us that it doesn’t work, because we don’t like the same things, we don’t like to be in the same places! I didn’t think that I could ever be with someone who didn’t like Led Zeppelin! And the stuff she likes I got dragged into by my heels – you know, the whole world of musical theatre made me physically ill – and still occasionally does. But I’ve got used to it now because of her. I’ve learnt so much; she has enriched my life beyond measure.”
Another World is very optimistic, a very ‘up’ sort of album. Is this a good place in your life?
‘That’s a hard question to answer. The simple answer is no. I’ve had serious battles with depression. It sounds stupid, because everybody thinks, ‘ poor little rich b******d’. But it doesn’t make any difference what your situation is.
Depression is a sort of paralysis that comes over you. You don’t feel that you can move, you can’t see a way forward that you can bear. I’m not like that right now because I’m busy and being busy is the greatest thing.’
With all the things that you collect, with the book that you want to write – do you ever see music taking a back seat?
‘No, it will always be the primary thing. Or rather it’s number two, because number one is the kids [Brian has three: Jim, who is 20; Louisa, 16; and Emily-Ruth, 11]. That’s my most serious task, to get that right. At the moment I don’t.’
But they don’t have any problems with you, do they?
“Oh yes they do! There’s a certain period when they have to reject you, they have to despise you – and it’s a big shock. I always thought it would be fine for me to be successful; I didn’t realise what a problem it would be for my kids. It affects the way you make friendships, the way their teachers look at them! I’m sort of a danger area for them – I realise that – and it makes for a lot of problems. To the point where I often have to not appear at school or college things because it would create too much fuss. I was really naïve; I thought it would be nice for them to have a famous dad. But now I know that it’s not.”
Is the root of all this unhappiness simply that you are no longer part of Queen?
“No, I’m OK about that. That’s not the biggest thing. Sometimes you think, ‘God it would be nice to go out one more time with the boys’, because the offers are always there. But I don’t feel it would be the same: and I don’t want to do anything that’s less than what we were. I’d rather leave it on a high. It’s frustrating because as Brian May I can go out and play as I have done and I have a brilliant time. But I’ll play theatres or whatever. With the brand name of Queen, you owned the city for a night. It’s an amazing feeling, and I do miss that huge contact and sense of occasion.”
Another World is out now on Parlophone Records.