Dr Brian May CBE

Presented by Professor Frank Sanderson

Honorable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Brian May CBE for the award of an Honorary Fellowship of Liverpool John Moores University.  

With a musical career spanning well over 3 decades, Queen founding member Brian May is a world-renowned guitarist, songwriter, musical director and producer.

His other passion is astronomy which has led to fruitful collaboration with his boyhood hero, Sir Patrick Moore. In fact, Brian's life might have turned out quite differently. 

If he had followed his father's wishes, he would have completed his astrophysics PhD in 1972 and he would have most likely embarked on an academic career. He just might have been processing today as one of the professors in our world-renowned Astrophysics Research Institute.    

Instead he became a world-famous rock star, managing along the way to convince his father Harold that he had made the right choice. But he never abandoned his passion for the night sky.  

Brian May was born in Hampton Middlesex on July 19th 1947 which makes this day a special day for him in more ways than one. The seeds of his life-long interest in astronomy were sown at 7 years of age when he became a fan of The Eagle comic-strip hero Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future and was allowed to stay up late to watch a new programme called The Sky at Night, presented by a compelling new broadcaster, Patrick Moore.   

Later, he built a telescope with his father, an engineer, and he now has an observatory in his back garden in Surrey. He has also been passionate about music from a young age and took up the guitar when he was 8, gaining inspiration in his teens from the music of Cliff Richard and the Shadows. At Hampton Grammar School, he demonstrated an aptitude for the sciences and progressed to Imperial College from where he graduated with an honours degree in Maths and Physics. He stayed on to study for a PhD, supplementing his grant with income from part-time teaching and playing in bands with his friend Roger Taylor. 

Soon they were joined by art student Freddie Bulsara, and John Deacon, and formed Queen. 

After 4 years, his doctoral thesis on interplanetry dust was taking shape but the grant was running out and music was beginning to take over his life. He abandoned his thesis, or more exactly, put it on the back burner, and the rest is history. Queen soon had a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic with their 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack.   

They recorded a total of 20 albums and had great success around the world with Killer Queen, Radio Ga Ga and Bohemian Rhapsody. They were famed for their flamboyant live shows, where Brian provided extended and technically brilliant guitar solos inspired by Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. And it is the big live shows which Brian sees as the highlights of his career: these include Live Aid in 1985 and The Party at the Palace Jubilee Concert in 2002 which he launched with his own memorable arrangement of God Save the Queen from the roof of Buckingham Palace to a live audience of 1.2M people.  

Brian has written over 20 top-20 hits worldwide, including We Will Rock You, The Show Must Go On, I Want It All, and Who Wants To Live Forever, and has also recorded 2 highly successful solo albums - Back To The Light in 1991, including Too Much Love Will Kill You and Driven By You, both Ivor Novello Award winners, and Another World in 1998.     

And he has also achieved great success as a producer and musical director with the Queen rock theatrical We Will Rock You which opened in London in 2002 to standing ovations and which has subsequently enjoyed unprecedented success world-wide.    

Brian was introduced to Sir Patrick Moore by a mutual friend in 1996 and they immediately hit it off, united by their common interest in astronomy. It was not long before they were off on eclipse-spotting trips to such places as Peru and the Isle of Skye. They also recently appeared together on a programme to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Sky at Night, and last year, Brian was the co-author of  Bang! - The Complete History of the Universe with Patrick Moore and cosmologist Chris Lintott.  

And this year, Brian has finally written up his astrophysics PhD at Imperial College, and now awaits the judgement of the examiners. He is also currently working on a book about T R Williams, a pioneer stereo photographer of the 1850's.  

Brian May is a particular credit to his profession: he's never taken drugs, he's family-minded - happily married to Anita Dobson and with 3 grown children -, and he is without conceit. It seems that the star-gazing has really helped him to keep things in perspective. 

As he says, "Contemplating the vastness of the universe is scary but it's also comforting. It makes all our problems seem so incredibly insignificant."  

He is also a patron of a number of charities, including The British Bone Marrow Association, and the Mercury Phoenix Trust through which he fulfils his on-going commitment to Aids Awareness. And he is a long-time ambassador for the Prince's Trust. 

The honours and awards he has received are numerous and include honorary Doctor of Science degrees from the University of Hertfordshire and, earlier this month, the University of Exeter, and in the Queen's birthday honours list of 2005, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire "for services to the music industry".  

In a career spanning almost 4 decades, Brian May has found fame and fortune as one of the world's greatest guitarists, and as a songwriter, musical director and producer.  

We honour him for these outstanding achievements, but we particularly honour him for his increasingly significant role in popularising astronomy. We know that his boyhood hero, Sir Patrick Moore, a long-standing Fellow of LJMU, is proud to call him a friend, and is particularly delighted that he is being honoured today. 

Thus I have great pleasure in presenting Brian May CBE, this most distinguished person, for admission to our highest honour of Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.