27 Freddie Mercury facts you (probably) didn’t know
It has been 27 years since the legendary Freddie Mercury died as a result of Aids. Mercury wrote global chart successes like Bohemian Rhapsody, Killer Queen, Somebody to Love, and We Are the Champions. So much is common knowledge. But what more is there to know about the man who lives on in the hearts of millions of fans?
1. Born in Zanzibar
Freddie Mercury was born as Farrokh Bulsara on 5 September 1946 in Zanzibar, currently part of Tanzania. His parents are Parsis, Indians hailing from Persia. Farrokh’s father, Bomi, worked for the British government as a cashier at the High Court in Zanzibar.
2. Boarding school in Bombay
: When he’s 8 years old, Farrokh is sent to boarding school in Bombay, India. He remains there until he’s seventeen, and it is there that he learns to play the piano, among others. He is also an avid collector of stamps. In 1993, the National Postal Museum buys his collection. At the age of 14, he starts playing in his first band, the Hectics. He rarely sees his parents, which he finds very hard.
3. Freddie meets Brian in Feltham
In 1964 the Bulsaras move to the London suburb of Feltham. In Feltham, Freddie (that’s how Farrokh calls himself now) meets one Brian May, with whom he shares a great love for music (The Beatles, Hendrix).
4. Art Academy
After finishing secondary school, Freddie Bulsara enrolls at the Ealing Art College in London, where he follows the design program.
5. Freddie Mercury's first band
During his years at the art academy, Freddie plays in various bands. The first one is Ibex, which changes its name to Wreckage in 1969. Shortly after that, Freddie joins Sour Milk Sea. Not many recording of these bands are known to exist. A box containing all of Mercury’s solo work, released in 2000, includes a cover of the Beatles’ Rain by Ibex, as well as Green by Wreckage.
6. Freddie joins Smile
At the art academy, Freddie meets fellow-student Tim Staffel, who sings in the band Smile, which also includes guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor. They record a few songs, but not until 1982 were these released, on the mini album Gettin Smiled. One of them is Doing All Right, which can also be heard on Queen’s first album. When Staffel leaves Smile to try his luck with Humpy Bong, Freddie Bulsara steps in as his replacement.
7. Freddie Mercury and Roger Tyalor ran a market stall
The time: the 1970s and 1980s. The place: An indoor market, three stories high. Both Freddie and Roger Taylor run a stall on de top floor, where they sell art and clothing. Freddie sells paintings made by himself, among which are portraits of his hero Jimi Hendrix. He keeps doing this even until the release of Queen’s first album in 1973.
8. Smiles becomes Queen
With Bulsara as its new frontman, Smile becomes Queen in 1970. A year later, bass player John Deacon joins the band. The song My Fairy King is about mother Mercury, which gives Freddie the idea to take on the name Mercury, in order to sharpen the boundary between the artist and the private person. In 1972, he designs Queen’s logo, the big Q with a crown inside and around it the star signs of the Queen members: on both sides a leo for Roger and John, on top a cancer for Brian, and beneath it two angels representing virgins, after Freddie’s own star sign.
9. Freddie meets the love of his live
In 1970, at his market stall, Freddie meets the then-19-year-old Mary Austin, who works at a clothing store in Kensington. They fall in love. Four years later, on Christmas Day, he gives her a box with a smaller box in it, an even smaller box in that, and finally a tiny box with a jade love ring in it. Much to her surprise, he asks her to marry him. She whispers “yes”.
10. 'I think you're gay'
Mary and Freddie don’t get married. He doesn’t revisit the subject, avoids it even, until finally he tells her that he’s bisexual. “No Freddie”, Mary answers him, “I don’t think so. I think you’re gay.” This leads to a temporary rift between them, but their special connection survives. Freddie writes Love of my Life for her.
11. Freddie becomes godfather
Mary gets relationships with other men and becomes the mother of two sons, Richard and Jamie. Freddie is Richard’s godfather, Jamie is born after Freddie’s death.
12. Kenny Everett plays Bohemian Rhapsody
In 1975 Bohemian Rhapsody is released, at that time the most expensive single ever made, due to the 180 overdubs that are necessary for recording the opera part. A tricky job with the then-common 24- track tapes. The song lasts 5,55 minutes, which is the reason why record company EMI refuses to release it on single. Too long for radio, it is said. The band ignores the request to make a shorter version of the song. Radio DJ Kenny Everett, a friend of Freddie’s, somehow manages to get hold of a copy of the song, but is explicitly requested not to play it on the radio. But, accidentally, he keeps playing small bits of the song on his show. Listeners start calling because they want to hear the entire song, and Everett ends up playing Bohemian Rhapsody fourteen times in two days. The rest is history.
13. Freddie performed once with the Royal Ballet
Anyone who listens to Freddie Mercury’s songs can hear his versatility. Metal, rock, ballads, opera, ragtime, pop, soul, disco, it’s all in there. A lesser known fact is that he also performed with the Royal Ballet once, at a charity gala. It had been a long-cherished dream of his. He danced and sang Bohemian Rhapsody and Crazy Little Thing Called Love, earning him an ovational applause as well as muscle pains in unexpected places.
Freddie Mercury was very aware of his overbite. He never dared to have his teeth changed though, since he was afraid it might affect his voice.
15. Freddie wanted to form a trio with Elton John and Rod Stewart
Queen and David Bowie working together is a generally known fact (Under Pressure). But Freddie’s attempt to form a trio with Elton John and Rod Stewart failed. Should it be Nose (Rod), Hair (Elton) & Teeth (Freddie) or Teeth, Nose & Hair? Or maybe Hair, Teeth & Nose? The – vain – gentlemen simply couldn’t agree on it.
16. The Moustache
In the early 1980s, Freddie appears on the gay scene in Munich. He grows a moustache, common practice in those circles, inspired by a member of the Village People. Outraged fans throw razor blades onto the stage.
17. The Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson duet
In 1984, State of Shock became known as a duet by Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger. But Jackson records the first version of the song with Mercury, a fact that gets out through the internet in 2002. In 1983, the pair records three songs in two days. There Must Be More to Life Than This is released in 2014, on the compilation album Queen Forever. The Jackson/Mercury version of Victory has not appeared yet. In the studio, Jackson is always accompanied by his chimpansee Bubbles, a reason for Mercury to put an end to the recording sessions after the third day.
18. Freddie has a love for cats
Onstage extraverted and flamboyant, offstage an introverted homebody who loves cats. Whenever Queen is on tour, Mercury regularly calls home to talk to his cats. At times, there are as many as six at his house, some given to him, some taken from the shelter (Blue Cross Charity). The album Innuendo, which was released in 1991, includes a song about his tortoiseshell cat Delilah.
19. Freddie dates soft core porn star Barbara Valentine
In Munich, Mercury meets busty German soft core porn star Barbara Valentine, with whom he gets into a relationship. Valentine appears as an extra in the music video for It’s a Hard Life.
20. 1,5 billion people watch Live Aid
Mercury leaves Munich in 1985 and retreats to London. In that year Live Aid takes place, where Queen gives a spectacular performance, which was voted best live performance ever, in both England and the Netherlands. 1,5 billion people on the planet watch the television-show. One year later, Queen performs for the last time, in Knebworth Park, for 350.000 fans.
21. Freddie Mercury is diagnosed with aids
Another year later, in 1987, Mercury is diagnosed with Aids. He refuses to talk to anyone about it, with even his fellow Queen-members being told very little. He doesn’t want his fans to buy Queen-albums out of compassion.
22. Freddie dies a day after announcing he has aids
Mercury feels his end is near and tries to record as many songs as possible. On 23 November 1991, he puts an end to the uncertainty and releases a public statement, saying: "Following enormous conjecture in the press, I wish to confirm that I have been tested hiv-positive and have Aids. I felt it correct to keep this information private in order to protect the privacy of those around me. However, the time has now come for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth, and I hope everyone will join with me, my doctors and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease. My privacy has always been very special to me and I am famous for my lack of interviews. Please understand this policy will continue. I still love you. Your Freddie." One day later, he dies.
23. Freddie leaves his mansion to Mary Austin
At the time of Mercury’s passing he has already been living with his partner Jim Hutton, a hairdresser, for six years in Garden Lodge, a monumental mansion in Kensington. He does not leave the mansion to Hutton, but to Mary Austin. “You were my wife, so it was already yours anyway, my love.”
24. The mystery of Freddie's final resting place
To this day, it is unclear what happened to Freddie Mercury’s mortal remains. Mercury himself said he wanted to be strewn into his beloved Lake Geneva. His partner Jim Hutton believes his ashes were buried under a big cherry tree in the garden of Garden Lodge. The only one who really knows is Mary Austin, who was instructed by Mercury to strew the ashes in a secret place. For years, she left the urn on her mantelpiece, until she finally found the courage to fulfill his last wish.
25. Tribute concert
In 1992, the remaining Queen-members organise a tribute concert in honour of their deceased singer. At Wembley, artists like David Bowie, George Michael, Elton John and Guns N’ Roses play their versions of Queen’s greatest hits. The concert is broadcasted live globally and aims to increase awareness when it comes to hiv and Aids.
26. Freddie Mercury lived here
The house in which Freddie Mercury lived when he met Brian May for the first time has been proclaimed a cultural heritage site. The Bulsara family moved into a modest terraced house in Feltham after leaving Zanzibar in 1964. Freddie was seventeen years old at the time. On the house a blue English Heritage plaque was unveiled with the following text: Freddie Mercury (Fred Bulsara) 1946 – 1991 Singer and Songwriter lived here.
27. Queen on the silver screen
Early November 2018 sees the world premiere of the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, aptly subtitled ‘The only thing more extraordinary than their music is his story’. The focus of the movie, which covers the period from the formation of Queen until Live Aid in 1985, is on Freddie Mercury. Its production is characterised by drama, with screenwriters, leading actors and directors changing until the last moment. Rami Malek (‘Mr. Robot’) plays Freddie in an inimitable way. In its opening weekend, the movie already grosses 141 million dollars, amply compensating for the 55 million dollars it cost to produce.
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