In our noisy open-plan office you can always tell when someone is interviewing someone important. Because everyone else goes really quiet as they furiously ear-wig on the conversation.
And so it was when I got to call up Dr Brian May; THE Brian May, lead guitarist of Queen, studier of microscopic dust particles, spirited campaigner against the badger cull, writer of some of the world’s greatest songs, seller of an estimated 300million albums and that bloke who played the national anthem on the roof of Buck House at the Golden Jubilee.
Not that my colleagues would have heard much from my end; I was too busy wondering what to ask him.
I mean. Badgers/concert (he’s coming to the Pavilion on Tuesday with the vocalist Kerry Ellis on the inaugural date of their Born Free tour) /doctorate/Aids charities/Freddie Mercury/THAT Live Aid performance... the possibilities blow your head off.
And I’ve only got 10 minutes with Brian on a crackly phone as he wanders round the BBC following yet another round of badger-saving interviews.
In the event I am so star-struck I opt for the feeble universal opener, asking why he is starting off his tour in Bournemouth’s Pavilion.
Brian, bless him, graciously reminds me that the town has been the site of some really fabulous Queen concerts: “So we’re no strangers to it but I think it’s as good a place as any to start because, in a sense, it’s on its own,” he says.
“Most of the tour will be up north but we haven’t covered the Bournemouth area in our last tour so I’m really looking forward to it.”
And why wouldn’t he, when Dorset is so very dear to his heart.
“We have a lot of history in Dorset,” he says.
“We used to holiday in Weymouth and until their last days my mum and dad used to go down there.”
He reminisces about the beautiful beach and how delighted he was to discover that his family used to be dairy farmers in the county and how he owns land at Bere Regis which he’s going to replant as primeval forest with 101,000 trees and, more importantly: “Make it safe for wild animals.”
No prizes for guessing which wild animals he’s thinking of. Brian may be a rock god of monumental proportions but he’s currently best known as the figurehead of the campaign to halt the government’s badger cull in Gloucestershire and Somerset.
The government wants to eliminate badgers in cattle areas because they say they spread bovine tuberculosis. Brian – and most of the scientific community and David Attenborough and, he would like to point out, quite a few farmers – reckon they don’t and the problem is far more complex and can’t be resolved by blasting thousands of them to death.
“None of these marksmen and shooters have any experience of shooting badgers because it’s actually illegal,” he says.
“Badgers are a protected species so these poor creatures will be maimed and loads of them will crawl away and die somewhere and they are saying this is humane?”
He has no confidence it will solve anything, given that: “Owen Paterson, the wonderful Minister of the Environment, supposedly has now admitted that in 25 years he still wants to be culling badgers.”
At this juncture I give him a direct opening to have a pop at the farmers but he won’t.
“It’s not really the farmers’ fault, it’s the leadership, I would say,” he says, citing the National Farmers’ Union.
“It’s very easy for them to paint me as anti-farmer but it’s not the case; I like my milk on my cornflakes and I don’t want to give that up but I do not want it at the price of hundreds of thousands of badgers’ blood.”
It’s not really what he’d planned to be doing in his seventh decade, is it?
“I hate it, I don’t want to spend my time talking about badgers and campaigns, I wish it was taken care of, I wish we had a decent, humane government and one day, please God, we will, we’ll have a government where wildlife and animals are represented,” he says.
He speaks up because: “I’ve been pushed to the front of it a little reluctantly but I’ll do it because I believe it has to be done.”
And Brian is certainly a man who gets things done; whether it’s surveying radical velocities in the zodiacal dust cloud, swapping astronomical tips with Brockenhurst star-gazer Professor Greg Parker, raising money for charity (one of the reasons he was awarded the CBE), or keeping alive the flame of ‘dear Freddie’ Mercury, a man he still misses and whose ballads will be part of the Born Free tour.
“Queen is such a huge part of my life still,” he says.
Not just his, I remind him. This glorious band that Brian was so much the backbone of has been the soundtrack to many a 40-something’s life, including mine.
He sounds genuinely touched. “Thank you for saying that.”
And, as his PR cuts in and we have to finish, I put down the phone and realise my colleagues are still listening.
- Brian May and Kerry Ellis appear at The Pavilion Theatre, Bournemouth, on Tuesday at 7.30pm