Main content

Sue Lawley's castaway is lead guitarist of Queen Brian May.

Brian May spent his childhood in Feltham near London and he learnt his first chords on his father's ukelele banjo. He soon progressed to the guitar, which he started learning when he was eight. He perfected his technique by buying records and copying the trickiest guitar parts. Although Brian's dream was to be a guitarist, it didn't seem like a reality so, encouraged by his parents, he went to London University's Imperial College to study physics. Whilst there he continued playing in bands with his drummer friend Roger Taylor. They were soon joined by art student Freddie Bulsara (who became Freddie Mercury) and John Deacon and formed Queen. Brian was researching infra red astronomy and part-time tutoring, but Queen soon hit the big time with their 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack, a success on both sides of the Atlantic. The band recorded 20 albums over a 22 year period and had frequent hits around the world with Killer Queen, Radio Ga Ga and Bohemian Rhapsody. Brian wrote huge Queen hits such as We will Rock You, Fat Bottomed Girls and Flash. They were known for their flamboyant live shows, where Brian provided technical brilliance and extended guitar solos inspired by Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. When lead singer Freddie Mercury died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991, Brian and his fellow band members organised a huge tribute concert for AIDS research which was shown on television screens around the world.

Thirty-one years after Queen began, the band is still popular: Bohemian Rhapsody was voted most popular British song in a BBC Radio 2 poll this year, 24 years after its first release. Brian has also written and toured with his own band and in June this year he kicked off the Queen's Jubilee concert with an amazing guitar solo of The National Anthem from the roof of Buckingham Palace. This month he came fifth in a poll to find the World's Greatest Guitarists.

[Taken from the original programme material for this archive edition of Desert Island Discs]

Favourite track: Saturn - the Bringer of Old Age by Gustav Holst
Book: Out of the Silent Planet by C S Lewis
Luxury: His own guitar: the Red Special

Available now

45 minutes

Last on

Fri 20 Sep 2002 09:00

Music Played

  • Castaway's Favourite

    • Gustav Holst

      Mars (The Bringer of War) From The Planets – Suite, op.32

      Orchestra: Royal Scottish National Orchestra Conductor: Alexander Gibson

      • Holst: the Planets.
      • Chandos.
  • Buddy Holly

    Maybe Baby

    • Buddy Holly & The Crickets - 20 Golden Greats.
    • MCA Records Int..
  • Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

    The Tracks Of My Tears

    • 18 Greats.
    • Tamla Motown.
  • The Babys

    Back on my Feet Again

    • The Babys Anthology.
    • Chrysalis.
  • Phil Spector

    To Know Him is to Love Him

    Artist: Anita Dobson with Brian May on guitar

    • Talking of Love.
    • ODEON.
  • Rainbow

    Since You Been Gone

  • Highway to Hell

  • Brian May and Queen

    We Will Rock You

    • News of the World.
    • EMI.
  • Book Choice

    • Out of the Silent Planet - C S Lewis

  • Luxury Choice

    • His own guitar: the Red Special


Role Contributor
Presenter Sue Lawley
Interviewed Guest Brian May


Featured in...

The Desert Island Discs podcast

The Desert Island Discs podcast

Subscribe or download individual episodes.

Listen to over 2,000 programmes



Read the surprising things we've learned about some stand-out castaways.

The 75th anniversary of Desert Island Discs

The 75th anniversary of Desert Island Discs

Featuring David Beckham, the funniest and most moving moments, animations and quizzes.

The Lark Ascending – The People’s Desert Island Disc

The Lark Ascending – The People’s Desert Island Disc

Why does Vaughan Williams’s masterpiece appeal to so many castaways?