Right Said Fred: We're not COVID deniers - but living like hermits is killing the country
19 November 2020, 21:24 | Updated: 20 November 2020, 09:54
Right Said Fred have hit out at the latest lockdown and the government for the "waste of talent" in the arts industry while venues are shut - but tell Sky News they are not COVID deniers and that their position has been "grossly misunderstood" after they made headlines for joining a protest earlier this year.
Brothers Richard and Fred Fairbrass, best known for their early '90s hits I'm Too Sexy and Deeply Dippy, are vocal about their views on lockdown: "We either live like hermits and we kill the country we love, or we face up to the fact that some of us are going to die."
While they have been accused of being anti-mask and even anti-vax as well, they say their argument is really about freedom of speech, as well as the devastating effect of the coronavirus crisis on the economy, the entertainment industry, and the elderly and vulnerable.
They attended a protest in Trafalgar Square in September to fight for "free speech", saying the UK is in a "strange place" where "there are only certain kinds of speech that are acceptable".
"Our basic position is - and it gets grossly misunderstood - is that you should be able to say whatever you want to say," says Richard.
"We should never allow ourselves to get into a situation where speech becomes an issue - unless it's hate speech."
"The protest was anti-lockdown," says Fred. "But it was more to do with save our rights and stand up for free speech and the right to assemble…
"My position is I'm not a COVID denier and I'm not anti-vax, but I defend those people's right to express their opinion. That's all it is. So there's another march at the end of this month and we'll be going to that as well for exactly the same reason, which is free speech."
The duo say they received "abuse" after taking part in the protest, but criticism doesn't affect them. "People can disagree, criticism is part of free speech," says Fred.
"[But] with free speech, it's you either believe it or you don't. You can't have it both ways. You can't say, 'I believe in free speech but you can't say what you want to say'. It's not conditional."
Their stance on masks is that people are wearing them without question, or for effect, they say.
"All I'm saying with masks is, if you're gonna wear one, make sure it's the right mask," says Richard. "Understand how often you need to change it or if it's got a filter, when you need to change the filter; understand where you need to wear it, under what conditions. If you want to make sure that the mask is fully effective, go on the internet and make sure that the makers of the mask are bona fide makers."
Asked what circumstances, if any, they would wear a mask in, Fred says he wore one on a flight, and Richard replies: "I would wear a mask if I was in an area like in the hospital. If I was visiting an elderly relative and they insisted, yes, I would."
Right Said Fred's forthcoming single, We're All Criminals - a reworked version of an older track - makes their views on lockdown pretty clear.
The duo say coronavirus has taken over and there are other urgent issues that need addressing.
"I'm not trying to belittle or downgrade how COVID has affected many people," says Fred. "That's not what this is about. But you can't ignore swathes of other conditions and millions of people who also need help and healthcare.
"Mental illness, domestic violence, child abuse, addiction and the suicide rate's gone up. [The] divorce rate's gone up. These people are also in trouble."
While the numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths have increased dramatically in recent weeks, the brothers say they are not convinced by government figures - and claim they are listening to other "doctors, highly qualified people" who offer alternative views on masks and lockdown.
"The whole economy should be opened up," says Fred. "We should look out for the frail, look after the vulnerable. People should stay at home if they feel unwell like you would do in any flu season. And... we have to stop infantilising the whole nation."
Rather than shutting the country down and furloughing staff, the billions should have been spent on care homes and the NHS, Richard believes.
"It's like if you're waiting for a cancer diagnosis or consultation or anything of that kind, you are on a hiding to nothing," he says.
While they are best known for their '90s hits, the band continue to play around the world, and received BMI awards in 2018 and 2019.
With their gigs wiped out this year due to the pandemic, they say it is up-and-coming artists and small venues that are struggling most.
"You could say that successful artists will better weather the storm, there's an argument in that, although they shouldn't have to," says Fred.
"But it's not just the artists. What people have to remember is those people you see on stage, whether it be a comedian or a band or jugglers or Cirque du Soleil, or whoever, that there's a ripple effect and it goes for thousands of miles because people come in from thousands of miles.
"So it goes right back to your house where you get into the cab and you go to the airport, you have a coffee… you get on the plane and then you get off the plane, another car, hotels.
"At a big festival, you could be looking… I mean, there are literally thousands of people involved in just one festival. And they've all lost work, all of them."
In October, Downing Street took down a "crass" government-backed advert after it suggested a ballet dancer could "reboot" her career by retraining in cyber security.
"Do you remember any bankers in 2008 being asked to retrain?" says Fred.
Many politicians don't understand the industry, says Richard.
"There's high culture, if you want to use that word, which is the ballet and the Royal Opera and all that kind of stuff, and the National Theatre," he says.
"And then there's low culture, which is an empty gig.
"Without low culture, there's no high culture. This is where it feeds, it starts here. So there's a fundamental misunderstanding of what feeds culture and what makes it. It's not all about the Albert Hall, it's not all about, you know, some fancy theatre somewhere. It's a grassroots thing.
"Apart from anything else, it's just a waste of talent. It's a waste of skill. The country will not grow great on that basis."
"This is a spiritual war," says Fred. "They're sucking the life out of people and we do not deserve it."