Coronavirus: Brian May says the shortage of PPE is 'horrendous'

By Mark Savage
BBC music reporter

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media captionBrian May on re-making We Are The Champions for the NHS

Brian May says the failure to stockpile crucial protective equipment ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic is "heartbreaking and horrendous".

The Queen star told the BBC he was "angry and sad" that healthcare workers were "expected to go in and risk their lives" without proper protection.

"People have died. Young people who had their whole lives ahead of them. I find it absolutely heartbreaking," he said.

The government said it was "determined to overcome the challenges" with PPE.

A BBC Panorama investigation this week discovered that there were no gowns, visors, swabs or body bags in the government's pandemic stockpile when Covid-19 reached the UK.

More than 100 NHS and healthcare workers known to have died with the virus during the outbreak.

"I think we as a nation have to be ashamed that we were not prepared," said May.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "We're determined urgently to overcome those challenges that have become so infuriating. I'm not going to minimise the logistical problems we have faced in getting the right protective gear to the right people at the right time, both in the NHS and in care homes."

He added: "Everyone responsible for tackling these problems is throwing everything at it, heart and soul, night and day, to get it right. And we're making huge progress."

May was speaking as Queen released a new version of their hit single We Are The Champions in support of frontline healthcare workers.

Re-titled You Are The Champions, the single was put together under lockdown with May and drummer Roger Taylor playing in London, and touring singer Adam Lambert recording his vocals in LA.

Proceeds will go to the World Health Organisation's Covid-19 fund, which supports medics around the world.

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"As a father with a daughter in the front line, I am ultra aware of the vital work they are doing daily to save us and our society," said Taylor, whose daughter is a GP in London.

"Their bravery and sacrifice must not be prejudiced by anything less than a 100% effort by our governments to protect them. They are precious to us all and they are truly our champions."

The band are not the only musicians hoping to raise money efforts for healthcare staff during the coronavirus pandemic.

Colonel Tom Moore and Michael Ball reached number one last week with their charity cover of You'll Never Walk Alone, while Britain's Got Talent judge Amanda Holden has recorded a new version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

Britpop bands including Dodgy, The Seahorses and Menswear have joined forces to re-record Shed Seven's Chasing Rainbows.

And indie acts such as Wolf Alice, Foals, and The Wombats have also put together a one-off vinyl album, with the aim of raising £30,000 to buy respirators for NHS Trusts in England and Scotland.

Queen's single came about after the band's tour was postponed due to the coronavirus earlier this year.

"I isolated very early on," May told the BBC. "To me, it was a no brainer.

"This virus was about to invade, the only weapon we had was to have less human interaction. So I thought, I'm doing it for the sake of my own health and for the sake of my family, and for the sake of everyone, really."

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image captionThe guitarist said the new song was recorded on iPhones and laptops

To pass the time, he started sharing tutorials on how to play some of Queen's most popular songs, including Bohemian Rhapsody, on Instagram.

Those lessons morphed into jam sessions with fans; and eventually May teamed up with Taylor to play We Are The Champions.

The guitarist said he had an "inkling" it could become something bigger, but it wasn't until Lambert added his vocals that the plan crystallised.

"I sent an email round to everyone and said, 'You know, we can change the odd word, if we like, to make it mean something different,' and we had the medics in mind because we're out there clapping every Thursday night.

"So I thought, 'Well, what can you change? Should it be like. 'You've paid your dues?'

"[Then] Adam went in there and he just changed those couple of words in the last chorus. So instead of 'we are the champions it became 'you are the champions'.

"We all went 'Yes, that's right. That's just a nice little subtle change'.

"It means that we are all applauding you, because you are now the champions. You are the warriors that are saving humanity on this planet."

The single, which is released on Friday 1 May, stems from those original sessions, with overdubs from May and Queen's touring bassist Neil Fairclough.

"It was all recorded on iPhones and laptops," May confessed. "But it just shows you don't have to have a multi-million dollar studio to make a record."

image copyrightQueen
image captionQueen and Adam Lambert performing on Instagram

Coincidentally, We Are The Champions was originally inspired by You'll Never Walk Alone, which has become an unofficial anthem of unity during the coronavirus pandemic.

At the height of their success in 1977, the band played a gig at Bingley Hall in Stafford - and when singer Freddie Mercury left the stage, the crowd started singing the Rodgers & Hammerstein song in the hope of getting an encore.

"I can still remember Freddie's face going, 'What is this? We should be embracing it, we should be loving it and encouraging it,'" May recalled.

"So I think at that moment We Are The Champions was born, and We Will Rock You was born - because we were consciously involving our audience from that point on.

"I love that. I love that about Queen and I'm proud of the fact that we've kind of generated a community in our audience. It's brilliant."

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