Brian May has said he feels a renewed responsibility to “behave in a way which benefits the country and the rest of the population” after being given a knighthood in the New Year Honours.
As the virtuoso guitarist in rock band Queen, the 75-year-old is responsible for some of the biggest riffs in popular music, from the solo on Don’t Stop Me Now to the melodic strums of Somebody To Love.
Alongside late frontman Freddie Mercury, bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor, he scored numerous number ones during the group’s ’80s heyday, touring the world.
The musician, astrophysicist and animal welfare advocate is being recognised for his services to music and charity.
He told the PA news agency he is “excited” and “pleasantly surprised” and the news has been “sinking in over the last few days”.
He added: “I feel very good about it. The first reaction I suppose is ‘Oh my God’, because it’s a shock.
“I don’t think I expected it because I haven’t been conducting the kind of life which I thought would lead to a knighthood – I’ve been quite vociferous in criticising recent Governments for a start.
“So I imagined that I was on the wrong side for all that stuff. It’s a nice surprise to have this honour put upon me.
“I also think it comes with a responsibility to continue to behave in a way which benefits the country and the rest of the population here and the world as well.
“But I take this responsibility quite seriously anyway so it’s an encouragement to seek a good place and for everybody in the world.”
May has also made a name for himself outside music, earning a PhD in astrophysics from Imperial College London in 2007 and campaigning for animal rights.
He co-founded International Asteroid Day and also had one named after him – 52665 Brianmay.
He is also co-founder of the Save Me Trust, which campaigns for the rights of foxes and badgers, and is vice-president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).
He has continued to record and play live, both solo and as part of a new version of Queen featuring Taylor on drums and a variety of singers, most recently Adam Lambert.
He said of his knighthood: “They asked for an official statement and I made one, and what I said was I don’t regard it so much as a reward, I regard it as a kind of charge, like a kind of commission to do the things that one would expect a knight to do – to fight for justice, to fight for people who don’t have any voice.
“And, in my case, for all creatures who don’t have a voice, and I regard it as a kind of endorsement of what I do.
“Because that is what I do more and more, I spend a lot of my time making music, of course, that’s my primary calling I suppose.
“But my feeling is, as you move through life, you need to become a completely rounded person.
“So it’s not just enough to be following your calling, you have to look at what your existence means in the context of the country and the planet and people.
“And also, in my case, the whole gamut of not just humans, but the whole spectrum of animals of which we are a part of, the whole sphere of animal life.”
May was made a CBE by the late Queen in 2005 for services to the music industry and charity, and is married to former EastEnders actress Anita Dobson.
Having only told his “nearest and dearest” until the news was made public, May said being made a knight took him to “a different level”.
He added: “Suddenly, instead of Brian, I will be Sir Brian to a lot of people, or Sir Bri. I don’t know what it’s going to be like.”
May performed during the Golden Jubilee in 2002, playing a solo guitar version of God Save The Queen from the roof of Buckingham Palace.
In June this year, he performed at the Platinum Jubilee, where the late monarch tapped the beat of We Will Rock You on a teacup at the end of a sketch featuring Paddington Bear.
May told PA: “I couldn’t have imagined this 50 years ago, when we were kind of hacking out a living and trying to put our music into the world.
“The fact that the Queen would be actually playing my song is quite something.”