Freddie Mercury feared one of his greatest songs was going to be a ‘complete disaster’
7 October 2022, 16:45
Freddie Mercury sang next to an opera icon, but he was worried it’d be a “complete disaster.”.
By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall
His voice is instantly recognisable.
Freddie Mercury sang with power, precision, and huge amounts of personality as Queen’s legendary frontman.
His incredible three octave vocal range launched the band into global stardom, forging a distinctive sound that blended various genres from rock all the way to opera.
It was always Freddie’s intention to “bring opera to the masses” and he certainly achieved that – look no further than the iconic track ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.
His immense voice only improved from Queen’s early days, with Freddie making an enormous impact on music in only a relatively short time.
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Outside of his career as one of rock ‘n’ roll music’s most unique talents, Freddie would later venture into opera himself testing his voice against the greats.
In fact his 1987 hit single ‘Barcelona’ saw Freddie sing alongside with one of the world’s most revered and respected opera singers, Montserrat Caballé.
The song was a huge success around the world, and Freddie achieved his dream of singing opera with his most beloved opera singer.
But the incredible duet could’ve ended as a “complete disaster” with Mercury having serious doubts that it’d work out.
Finding Freddie: Episode 4 – Making Barcelona Part 1
Mike Moran, the legendary composer who co-wrote and co-produced the album Barcelona with Freddie, said: “Very few people can sing like Freddie Mercury.”
“He’s one of the most unique performers I’ve ever had the fortune to work with,” he explained in the official YouTube series Finding Freddie.
“Freddie’s an amazing vocalist and he’s got immense range. Got great control over his voice, great phrasing.”
The time that stands out to Moran the most was during the recording of the ‘popera’ hit, when Moran said he was blown away by Freddie’s vocal talent.
“I don’t think Fred sung better at any other time in his life. Fred never tried to sing operatically, but Fred was a great performer,” Moran gushed.
“He could have done anything really I suppose. The power and the passion he put into it is the same as a tenor in an opera.”
But Freddie himself doubted he could prove his worth against the opera greatness of Montserrat Caballé.
“They were like old friends after about 10 minutes and that was it.”.
Freddie first came into contact with Caballé after he revealed she was his favourite performer in an interview, after seeing her sing alongside Luciano Pavarotti.
Her people set up an opportunity to meet in 1986, and Peter Freestone (Freddie’s personal assistant and long time friend) confessed it was the most nervous he’d ever seen Freddie.
In the Finding Freddie documentary series, Moran remembered: “Fred… was excited for one thing because she was an absolute idol of his. “
“But on the other hand, he said, ‘We might not get on, personally I don’t know what she’s like.’ So we tried to lighten the atmosphere a bit in case it turns out to be a complete disaster.”
Caballé was incredibly down to earth however and admitted she was a huge fan of Queen, which saw them strike up a friendship within minutes.
After having dinner together at Freddie’s Garden Lodge home in Kensington, Moran said: “They were like old friends after about 10 minutes and that was it.”
Freddie then mustered the courage to ask Caballé to collaborate on a song together.
Her brother was the music director of the upcoming 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, and who better to record a theme song with than Freddie Mercury?
She agreed, so Freddie began writing and recording in the studio with Moran.
Freddie Mercury got to sing alongside his favourite performer, Montserrat Caballé.
“It wasn’t an easy process” Moran revealed, having the task of fitting together to unique talents with equally unique voices.
But it worked out superbly, and became the biggest hit of Freddie’s solo career.
After his death in 1991, ‘Barcelona’ became the theme song for the 1992 Olympic Games which saw the classical crossover climb the charts around Europe.
It was a particularly special moment for Freddie, and his assistant Peter Freestone said that the Queen singer welled up watching Caballé perform a song he’d written.
“When Montserrat sang ‘Barcelona’, after her first take was the nearest I ever saw Freddie to tears”.
“Freddie was emotional, but he was always in control of his emotions, because he could let them out in performing or writing songs.”
“He grabbed my hand and said: ‘I have the greatest voice in the world, singing my music!’ He was so elated.”
Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Caballé – Barcelona (Original David Mallet Video 1987 Remastered)
Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe’s beautiful friendship remembered
The rock star and the opera singer broke down genre barriers with their epic 1988 album ‘Barcelona’ – and she was the only person who made him cry
Freddie Mercury with Montserrat Caballe, the only singer who made him nervous
As a rule, rock and opera getting together is a worse meeting than Trump and Johnson. But Freddie Mercury was one of the greatest rock singers of all time– and Montserrat Caballe, who died last year, was one of the finest opera voices of any generation too. Released in 1988, their joint album ‘Barcelona’ remains the only great classical crossover moment. But it nearly never happened, even though Spanish opera giant Montserrat was the only singer Freddie Mercury was in awe of (she was the only person ever to make Queen‘s legendary showman cry).
The new boxset ‘Never Boring’, a compilation of Freddie Mercury’s solo material, is revisiting ‘Barcelona’. NME met Freddie’s longtime PA and best friend Peter Freestone, along with the biggest video director of the ’80s, David Mallet – who made the video for the album’s eponymous lead single ‘Barcelona’ – to learn that Montserrat was as big a “rock & roll maniac” as anyone. We heard about their drunken antics, the majesty of their voices and how ‘Barcelona’ was a tragic race against time after Freddie learned of his Aids diagnosis while making the album.
How did the duet between Freddie and originally come about?
Peter Freestone: “I introduced Freddie to Montserrat’s voice in 1981. We went to the Royal Opera House to hear Luciano Pavarotti singing. But as soon as Montserrat started singing, Freddie ignored Pavarotti. Freddie went to a couple more of Montserrat’s concerts in New York, but he never wanted to meet her. I don’t think he wanted his image of this amazing diva destroyed. He imagined Montserrat would be a grand opera character, the same way everyone imagined Freddie was a rock & roll animal.”
David Mallet: “I think Freddie was frightened of being snubbed, too. He had a fear Montserrat would ignore him and he wouldn’t know how to come back from that.”
What was their first meeting like?
Peter Freestone: “Montserrat’s brother was in charge of the entertainment for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. When they became the host city in 1986, she said, ‘Who better to do a theme song with than Freddie Mercury?’ That was at Christmas, and in February they met at the Ritz in Barcelona. In all my life, I never saw Freddie so nervous.”
David Mallet: “Even later, he’d be hopping from one foot to the other with nerves before meeting Montserrat. I never saw him like that in 20 years of working with Freddie.”
Peter Freestone: “They’d arranged to have lunch at 1pm. In his suite, Freddie was chain-smoking and pacing. For the first time ever, he actually turned up for an appointment five minutes early – Freddie always made an appearance 15 minutes late. In the lobby, by four minutes past, Freddie said, ‘She’s not going to come, she’s not interested’, because she was all of four minutes late. Then this crowded lobby parted like the red sea and Montserrat walked through. She said later she was so happy because, when she took Fred’s hand, it was colder than hers, which meant he was even more nervous than she was. She’d been shaking at the thought of meeting this amazing rock star.”
David Mallet, video director for Queen, David Bowie, Janet Jackson, Blondie, AC/DC, INXS…
How did the album come about?
Peter Freestone: “Freddie assumed they’d only make one song together. Then Montserrat said: ‘How many songs do you put on a rock album?’ When Freddie told her eight or 10, she said: ‘Fine – we will do an album.’”
David Mallet: “Freddie said to me the next day: ‘Darling, I’ve woken up and I’m doing a fucking album!’”
Peter Freestone: “Montserrat had three days in September, four in January and two or three in April to come over and record her vocals. The tracks would be basically completed, just needing her vocal.”
There are stories that suggest they were as wild as each other…
Peter Freestone: “When Montserrat stayed at Freddie’s home, Garden Lodge, to try ideas for the album, the two of them and Mike Moran the producer were up at 4am. Montserrat picked up Freddie’s cigarette packet, took one out and started smoking. Freddie’s face, my God! He was agonising at her: ‘How can you do this? You’ll destroy your voice! What are you doing?’ I mean, she’d already drunk two bottles of champagne…”
David Mallet: “She was as big a maniac as Freddie. One doesn’t think that of opera singers and Fred didn’t think that, but Montserrat was an original rock’n’roll maniac. My favourite memory of them was at 3am in a hotel somewhere. They’d both drunk God knows what and they were just falling over each other, adoring each other.”
After being initially nervous, did Freddie get used to being around his idol?
Peter Freestone: “Every single time Freddie met Montserrat, he was nervous. It was almost like he had amnesia since their last time together. Every meeting was like a first meeting.”
David Mallet: “I remember having to adjust his clothes, check his hair and check his moustache looked fine before he met her once. When we filmed ‘Barcelona’, he was actually nervous before going on the stage. He was nervous between each take – we did about 10 in all. It was something I’d never seen in Fred.”
Freddie Mercury’s PA and confidante, Peter Freestone
It must have been very emotional for him to hear her singing his music
Peter Freestone: “When Montserrat sang ‘Barcelona’, after her first take was the nearest I ever saw Freddie to tears. Freddie was emotional, but he was always in control of his emotions, because he could let them out in performing or writing songs. He grabbed my hand and said: ‘I have the greatest voice in the world, singing my music!’ He was so elated.”
Freddie received his diagnosis just before recording started.
How did that affect the tone of the sessions?
Peter Freestone: “Nobody knew how much time he had. At the very beginning, the idea was to perform ‘Barcelona’ together at the Olympics. Freddie told Montserrat of his diagnosis, to let her know that he didn’t think he’d be there to perform it with her.”
David Mallet: “I had no idea there was anything wrong with Freddie. The first time I sensed something was wrong was editing the ‘Barcelona’ video. It was 2am, there was a bottle of vodka, and it was the first time I’d ever seen Freddie so different. He was only like it for maybe an hour, but there was something tortured about him.”
And what impact did the illness have on Freddie’s songwriting?
Peter Freestone: “Freddie could write a tune in 10 minutes, then spend a month agonising over the lyrics. Freddie knew he couldn’t afford to spend time agonising over the lyrics after he had his diagnosis. Also, they had to get the recordings done, with sheet music, to send to Montserrat so she knew what she’d be recording when she came for her vocal takes. ”
David Mallet: “Freddie worked best when there was a time limit. If there was unlimited time, he’d dither and change things, sometimes too much. He’d change something 10 times, only to go back to the original.”
What was Montserrat’s reaction to the music they were making?
Peter Freestone: “‘How Can I Go On’ was the last track they recorded. Freddie had the idea to speak Montserrat’s words after she sung them. Montserrat was in the studio control room, tears streaming down her face, saying, ‘Why do I have to be there screaming? Him talking is so much more meaningful!’ Freddie was in awe on ‘Ensueno’, the only song they sang together at the microphone, after Montserrat wrote its lyrics. The only way Freddie’s voice could get quieter was to walk away from the microphone. Montserrat’s control meant her voice just got quieter and quieter. Freddie never had a vocal teacher, he couldn’t do that, but listening to the control in other singers’ voices was how he taught himself.”
The ‘Barcelona’ video is one of the great diva-off performances of all-time…
David Mallet: “If you’ve got two incredible performers, let them rip. I wanted a performance video, not the normal music video of the time, which was clever tricks and silly storylines. I said to Fred: ‘We’ll have millions of candles and make it the grandest of operas.’ We all agreed to do something of great grandeur.”
Peter Freestone: “At the beginning of filming, Freddie was stiff. He didn’t move much, as he didn’t want to do his grand rock & roll moves with an opera singer next to him. But then he realised Montserrat was doing much more than he was.”
David Mallet: “Montserrat’s arms were flying everywhere. It took Freddie two or three takes to cotton on to that. I debated telling him, but decided to let him find out for himself. I could see his eyes register that he wasn’t doing it right at all next to Montserrat. It became a competition; they were virtually arm-wrestling.”
Peter Freestone: “It was ‘Anything you can do, I can do better…’”
David Mallet: “Montserrat had been nervous. She was fretting, ‘Darling, what do I do?’ I said: ‘Just be yourself. Imagine you’re on at the Metropolitan Opera. Close your eyes to the madness going on around you. Be what we all love, no changes.’ She was terrific to direct.”
Peter Freestone: “The outfit Montserrat wears in the video is the same one she wore when she starred in Ariadne Auf Naxos at the Met.”
Ultimately, The ‘Barcelona’ album sounds like two superheroes in action
David Mallet: “‘Barcelona’ was not two averagely successful rock singers coming together. Freddie was the best ever in rock & roll, and Montserrat was the best in opera. Call it Clash Of The Titans or whatever.”
Peter Freestone: “Also, it was the first real meeting of rock and opera. [Producer] Mike Moran was 100% right in saying to Freddie, ‘You’re a rock singer, sing rock’, and saying to Montserrat, ‘Don’t try to sing anything other than how you would.’ He told them ‘Sing like you and we’ll work it out.’ Nobody was trying to be what they weren’t.”
David Mallet: “That’s why ‘Barcelona’ works. It’s the greatest singers in their field, staying in their field.”
Peter Freestone: “Look at any of the rock singers at that time and what Freddie was putting at risk, performing with an opera singer. Who else would have dared do anything like it?”
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Freddie Mercury – biography, personal life, photo, cause of death, concerts, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Montserrat Caballe
Freddie Mercury is a British singer of Persian origin, leader and frontman of the rock band Queen, a legend of modern music and the idol of millions. On stage, he appeared as a charismatic and eccentric artist, but in life he remained a shy guy who avoided communicating with reporters. A Zoroastrian by religion, he created musical compositions that he himself called “songs for entertainment and consumption in a modern spirit.” Nevertheless, many of them entered the golden collection of rock.
Childhood and youth
Farrukh Bulsara (this is the real name of the artist) was born in Tanzania in 1946. Bomi and Jer’s parents were Parsis by nationality, representatives of the Iranian people, who professed the teachings of Zoroaster. Later, the daughter of Kashmir appeared in the family. At that time, the family moved to India and settled in Bombay. 6-year-old Farrukh was sent to a school in the city of Panchgani. The grandfather and aunt of the boy lived there, with whom he lived. At school, English-speaking classmates began to call Farrukh Freddy.
He turned out to be a diligent student, he became interested in sports, choosing hockey, tennis and boxing for himself. And the boy became interested in music and painting. He drew well, distributing drawings to friends and relatives. But most of all Farrukh loved to sing. Classes in the school choir took him a lot of time.
The school director drew attention to the student’s excellent vocals and offered the boy’s parents to develop the heir’s abilities in piano courses, promising to ask for a small price. Thus, Bulsara began attending music lessons and at the end of them was noted as the best student.
Embed from Getty Images Young Freddie Mercury
At the age of 12, Freddie and his friends organized a rock band called The Hectics. The guys played and sang at school discos and wherever they were accepted. In 1962, the future leader of Queen, who was 16 years old, graduated from high school in India and returned to his homeland, where his parents again moved. After 2 years, the power on the island changed: Zanzibar declared independence from Great Britain, riots broke out. The Bulsara family moved to London.
In his youth, the guy became a student at the prestigious Ealing College, where he studied painting and design, and also continued to study music and ballet dancing. Mercury called Jimi Hendrix and Rudolf Nureyev his idols.
While studying in Ealing, Freddie left his parents’ house and rented an apartment in Kensington, where London’s bohemia settled. Housing Bulsara filmed with friend and musician Chris Smith. At this time, Freddie also met a colleague from college Tim Staffel, who turned out to be the leader of the musical group Smile. Soon Freddie began attending band rehearsals, where he met all the musicians. He became especially close with drummer Roger Taylor, to whom he soon moved, as well as with guitarist Brian May.
After graduating from college in 1969, 23-year-old Freddie earned a degree in graphic design. He painted a lot. Together with Taylor, Bulsara opened a small shop where, among other goods, his works were sold. In the same year, the singer met the musicians of the Ibex band from Liverpool. In a few days he knew the entire repertoire of the band and even added some of his own songs.
After the collapse of the project, the performer, who could not imagine a future life without music, found a new group with the help of a newspaper advertisement. It was called the Sour Milk Sea. The newcomer was accepted as soon as they saw and heard what he was capable of. Freddie moved well, had a taut figure (with a height of 177 cm, the guy’s weight was 74 kg), and his voice of 4 octaves did not leave anyone indifferent. But soon the team ceased to exist.
After the singer left Smile, May and Taylor invited Freddie to take his place. Having accepted the offer, Bulsara not only actively joined the creative process, but also renamed the team to Queen. For some time, the band members could not find a suitable bass player. When John Deacon joined them in 1971, the composition took shape and remained unchanged.
Freddie drew the emblem of the band with the letter Q in the center and the zodiac signs of the musicians around. At 19On the 72nd, when the band was recording their debut album, the singer changed his surname Bulsara to Mercury’s creative pseudonym. Soon the song of his authorship Seven Seas of Rhye hit the British charts, they started talking about the team.
Already in the early stages of his work, Freddie’s attraction to theatrical art, ballet and opera was noticeable. This was reflected not only in the melody of the compositions, but also in the stage image of the vocalist. In the mid-70s, Mercury preferred tight-fitting ballet-style jumpsuits, decorated with sequins or rhombuses (the latter resembled a Harlequin costume). Also, the musician wore long hair, let his eyes down and painted his nails with black varnish.
Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury / shot from the film “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Love for opera inspired Freddie to create a composition that became a real masterpiece of rock music. In 1975, Bohemian Rhapsody was born, an experimental song that included several musical genres at once: rock, ballad, opera. Due to the complex form of the musical composition, the recording lasted more than three weeks, and the label’s executives were categorically unwilling to release the almost six-minute track as a single.
But thanks to the actor and radio host Kenny Everett, the song still sounded on the radio, after which a real boom began among rock music lovers, and the record went on sale. The composition stayed at the top of the charts for 9 weeks, an original video was shot for it. Bohemian Rhapsody was later named the best song of the millennium by The Official Charts Company.
In the same year, the group went on tour in Japan. These were not the first foreign concerts of Queen, by that time the musicians had already performed in the USA, but such a resounding success happened for the first time. The musicians felt like stars. Mercury then fell in love with the Land of the Rising Sun and began collecting Japanese art.
The team continued to delight fans with new bright works, and Freddie made real shows out of performances. In 1980, the artist changed his image. He got a short haircut, a mustache, and brutal alcoholic T-shirts, leather jackets and jeans replaced the ballet leotards. The music began to trace the features of the disco-funk style. The leader of the group surprised fans with the hit Under Pressure, which he performed with David Bowie, and later with the new hit Radio Ga Ga, the name of which remained a mystery.
July 13, 1985 can be considered the peak of the musical career of Mercury and Queen. The group participated in a grand show at Wembley Stadium, where, in addition to them, Elton John, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Sting and other stars sang. But it was Freddie’s performance that was unanimously recognized as the highlight of the program. The 75,000-strong crowd experienced real euphoria during Queen’s performance.
A year later, the team made the last tour called Magic Tour. It was at performances during these tours that the artist appeared in epic images that have become iconic: a yellow leather jacket and white pants with stripes, a burgundy royal mantle and a crown studded with precious stones. The costumes were designed by Diana Moseley. Concerts held in Europe gathered a huge number of spectators. More Mercury did not perform with the group due to health reasons.
In 1982, the band announced a one-year hiatus from touring. Mercury took advantage of the respite and began to prepare material for the first solo album Mr. bad guy. The work went on for a long time, with interruptions – as a result, the disc was released only in April 1985. The disc includes 10 tracks, some of which were filmed clips.
Embed from Getty Images Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe
Not without scandals. The video for the song Living On My Own was filmed during the 39anniversary of the singer. The video was immediately put on the shelf, saying that such a frank video with an abundance of transvestites and representatives of gay culture in the frame could not be presented to the public. The clip was still aired, but already 2 years after the death of the artist.
During Queen’s sabbatical, another significant event happened in Freddie’s biography: in 1983, the musician met Montserrat Caballe and got excited about the idea of a joint project. In the spring of 1987, Freddie and the opera diva began work on an album called Barcelona and was released on October 1988th. At the same time, a joint concert of artists took place. This was the last performance of the legend. Later, after Mercury’s death, the song that gave the name to the disc opened the 1992 Summer Olympics.
The singer’s personal life did not cease to interest the public. With Mary Austin, who became Freddie’s closest and dearest person, Mercury met in 1969. After several years of living together, they broke up: Freddie admitted that he was bisexual. But the friendship and close relationship between the couple survived until the death of the artist. Austin was his personal secretary, he dedicated the song Love Of My Life to her. It was Mary the musician who left a house in London and most of his fortune, and also became the godfather of her eldest son Richard.
Mercury later had a brief affair with actress Barbara Valentine. As some researchers of the life and work of the musician assure, he suffered from the fact that he could not start a family. In addition, according to the Parsi tradition, an adult man without a wife and children was considered a great sinner. The artist revered the traditions of his ancestors: in his youth he visited the temple of fire worshipers, where the sacrament of initiation into the Zoroastrian faith was performed on Freddie.
Embed from Getty Images Freddie Mercury and Mary Austin
After the death of the artist, talk about his orientation did not stop. There were interviews of friends in which they confirmed that the musician was gay. This was stated by Brian May and Roger Taylor, who knew Mercury closely. George Michael spoke about the singer’s bisexuality, and Freddie’s personal assistant Peter Freestone published a memoir in which he mentioned several men with whom the musician had a close relationship. Jim Hutton spoke about the 6-year connection with the legend in the book Mercury and Me.
Sickness and death
Rumors about Freddie Mercury’s illness appeared back in 1986. Information that the singer passed a positive HIV test was leaked to the press. In 1989, the disturbing rumors, which Mercury himself denied to the last, were confirmed. Freddie lost a lot of weight, and his emaciated appearance served as the most convincing evidence of a terrible illness.
During this period, Mercury worked hard, realizing that there was a lot to be done. He recorded songs for the next two albums: The Miracle and Innuendo. The clips for the latter are black and white, the only way to disguise Freddie’s changed appearance. Nevertheless, the artist continued to create masterpieces. The hit The Show Must Go On included in the last album was later included in the “100 Best Songs of the 20th Century”.
On November 23, 1991, Mercury officially announced that he had AIDS. The next day, November 24, Freddie was gone. The official cause of death was bronchial pneumonia.
His funeral took place according to the Zoroastrian rite, the relatives retreated in one thing: the body was cremated. The ceremony was attended only by relatives. Only Mary Austin’s family and friend knew where Mercury’s ashes were buried. In 2013, the media reported that fans had found a burial site at Kensal Green Cemetery in west London, but it turned out to be false.
In memory of the rock legend, in 2012, the documentary Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender was released. This was the name of the star after his bright performance of a cover version of the popular song of the 50s The Great Pretender. Writers Matt Richards and Mark Langthorne published a memoir, The Show Must Go On. The life, death and legacy of Freddie Mercury”, which described the biography of the idol of millions, presented detailed interviews with his colleagues, relatives, as well as little-known photos of the artist.
In 2018, the drama “Bohemian Rhapsody” was released, dedicated to the life story of the lead singer of Queen. The film received rave reviews, as well as a number of prestigious awards. The leading actor, Hollywood actor of Egyptian origin Rami Malek won 4 awards in the nomination “Best Actor” at once, including the Golden Globe, BAFTA and Oscar.
- 1973 – Queen
- 1974 – Queen II
- 1975 – A Night at the Opera 91977 – News of the World cle
- 1991 – Innuendo
- 1995 — Made in Heaven
- Cats have become a great passion in Freddie’s personal life. At different times, 10 pets lived in the singer’s mansion in Kensington, which the artist pretty much spoiled. While on tour, he called home and demanded that he be allowed to talk to his favorites. Delilah Mercury dedicated the song, and the red-haired Oscar was in the frame in the last photo of the celebrity. In the video for the song Those Were The Days Of Our Lives, the performer appeared in the original vest with the image of cats.
- The creators of the film “Bohemian Rhapsody” noted that the film would not have taken place without the help of Canadian singer Mark Martel. The performer demonstrated not only a surprisingly accurate hit in the overtones and style of Mercury, but also resembled the artist in appearance. Many Queen fans expressed regret that Malek and not Martel played the lead role, and also speculated that Mark’s mother had an affair with Freddie.
- In the video for the song I Want To Break Free, Mercury appears not only as an imposing housekeeper, but also, paying tribute to plastic art, in the image of Vaslav Nijinsky in the ballet “Afternoon of a Faun”.
Freddie Mercury – biography, photo, personal life, orientation, cause of death, height, listen to songs online
Biography of Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury (real name Farrukh Bulsara) is a British singer of Parsi origin. Frontman, songwriter and mastermind of the legendary band Queen.
Pictured: Freddie Mercury
Will my music stand the test of time? I don’t care!” Freddie said. And yet the influence of Queen on musical history is difficult to overestimate. Kurt Cobain was once inspired by Freddie’s creativity and personality, the lead singer of the British band Muse called Queen the best band in the world. One of the best albums in the discography of David Bowie “Under Pressure” was recorded together with Mercury. The band (to be fair, Queen’s greatness is the result of the efforts of all four members, not just one soloist) has found the perfect balance between commercial and quality music, arena rock and sincerity.
Childhood and youth
Farrukh, which translates into Farsi as “lucky”, Bulsara was born on September 5, 1946 in the Stone Town of Zanzibar Island. Now it is part of the Republic of Tanzania, and in those years Zanzibar was a “puppet” state under the auspices of the British Empire.
His father Bomi was a bookkeeper at the Supreme Court of England and Wales and made good money, so the family did not need anything. Mother, Jer Bulsara, was engaged in raising children: Farrukh and his six-year-old younger sister Kashmira.
Young parents of Freddie Mercury
From the first months of his life, Farrukh won the hearts of those around him with his smile. When he was a year old, his parents took a picture of their son and submitted it to a local photography contest. The jury awarded the broadly smiling baby first place.
Farrukh Balsara (Freddie Mercury) in childhood
The family belonged to the Parsi ethnic group – a people with Iranian roots, professing Zoroastrianism. When Farrukh was 7 years old, he was sent to study in Bombay, since the largest Parsi community lived there.
Kashmira, younger sister of Freddie Mercury
The boy was sent to a boarding school named after St. Peter, 100 km from the largest city in India, where he showed himself to be a capable and diligent student, was fond of creativity and sports. The sister recalled that she was only a year old when Farrukh left to study, but she adored her older brother, and his arrival for the holidays was the brightest event.
Freddie Mercury in high school
On weekends, he visited relatives either on the maternal side or on the paternal side. Parents’ relatives lived there, since both Bomi and Cem were natives of Bombay, they had to move to Zanzibar when the head of the family was transferred there for service.
Freddie Mercury with boarding school friends
In the boarding school, Farrukh became interested in music: the Bollywood singer Lata Mengeshkar had a special influence on him. Upon arriving in Bombay, he began taking piano lessons and later became hooked on rock and roll. At 12, he mastered the guitar and, together with his comrades, put together the group The Hectics. He knew musical notation, in his own words, very badly, but he devoted every free minute to writing songs.
The circle of interests of Farrukh was huge: music, drawing, fashion, theatrical art. Whatever he undertook, success awaited him. Parents proudly kept letters from school, which reported on the high academic performance of their son. The people around him loved him – the young man knew how to win over from the first moments. At the same time, by nature he was a shy person, but he skillfully hid it. “He was talented in everything. Of course, I was sick of it, ”Kashmira admitted.
Most of Farrukh’s classmates spoke English. It was difficult for them to pronounce his real name, so “Farrukh” quickly transformed into “Freddie”.
In 1963, when Farrukh was 16, Zanzibar gained independence and the family had problems with the local population. Bomi had a British passport, so the family, along with Farrukh, decided to move to Britain and moved to Feltham, a suburb of London.
Freddie Mercury in his youth (early 60s)
At first, the young man felt out of place. He was used to being the most fashionable in his environment, only in Bombay the concept of “fashionable” was interpreted differently. In boarding school, he cut his hair short and wore a deliberately neat suit, while the London youth wore long manes and frayed jeans with T-shirts. But he quickly assimilated and also grew long hair, which he adored and looked at in front of the mirror for a long time.
During the years of study at the boarding school, Farrukh got used to independence and was not going to report to his parents when, for example, he embarked on another adventure in nightclubs and came in the morning.
Kashmira Bulsara (Cook) about older brother
Many scandals in the family caused Farrukh’s unwillingness to get a higher education. He wanted to be creative, his parents insisted on a serious profession like an accountant or a lawyer. The compromise was the Department of Graphic Design at Ealing College. Freddie’s idols at that time were Jimi Hendrix and Rudolf Nureyev, he devoted his dissertation to the work of the first.
Freddie Mercury in 1969
Already in college, Freddie secured the fame of an extremely outrageous young man. For example, once he cut a tablecloth, put it on himself and came to class in this form.
Many people think that I have a foul temper. But I like to be ambiguous and surround myself with complex, conflicted sons of bitches. In the company of impeccable people, I would be bored.
Having received a diploma he didn’t need, having sewn two women’s coats for this, Freddie decided to rent an apartment in London – he wanted freedom, and the neighbor threatened to sue the guy if he didn’t stop playing the guitar non-stop and listen to records at full volume.
First Steps to Glory
At the end of his studies, Freddie met the Liverpool group Ibex. 10 days after the first meeting, Mercury already knew the entire repertoire of the musicians, added several of his own songs to it and went to the first concert in his life as part of the blues festival in Bolton. Despite the successful performance and subsequent concerts, the group quickly broke up, as some of the participants returned to their studies.
Young Freddie Mercury
After moving to London, the ambitious boy rented a room that looked more like a closet. His roommate was Tim Staffel, an Imperial College student and guitarist for the band 1984″, later renamed The Smile. Later, drummer Roger Taylor joined them with Brian May, and Staffel himself left the group due to problems with his studies.
However, Taylor and May quickly found a replacement for Tim. They were well acquainted with his roommate, and when it turned out that, in addition to charm and musicality, he sings well, they did not hesitate for a minute to invite him to the group, the name of which, according to Freddie’s suggestion, was changed to Queen – “Queen”.
In 1971, bass player John Deacon joined them, and in this line-up began a 20-year stellar history of the legendary band.
After the end of the formation of the group, Mercury created their coat of arms: the coat of arms of Great Britain formed the basis and images of the zodiac signs of the members of the musical union were added, namely two lions, cancer and a maiden.
The coat of arms of the Queen group was invented by Freddie Mercury
Mercury played a leading role in shaping the entire concept of the group, including the musical one: he is the author of the vast majority of compositions, for example, the lyrical ballad “Love Of My Life” (1975), the inimitable “Bohemian Rhapsody”, as well as the song “We Are The Champions” (1977), which became the anthem of sports fans.
Queen – “We Are The Champions”
In 1972, Freddie adds the pseudonym Mercury to his fictitious name, which means “mercury” or “mercury”, because this metal, as you know, is very fluid – Freddie was just as flexible, fast. In 1973 he officially changed his name.
In the same year, the band released their first album “Trident”, which became popular overnight. The high-quality stadium rock and variety of genres in which the musicians worked delighted the listeners, many compared them to The Beatles.
Photo session of Queen in Freddie Mercury’s apartment, early 70s
In 1975, Queen released the famous “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a six-minute experimental single that brought the band long-awaited worldwide fame and money.
Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
Mercury was not only an outstanding musician, but also an outstanding actor. Thanks to this, each concert of the group turned into a real show: his unique, so easily recognizable voice, was complemented by a bright temperament, emotionality, plasticity. The video clips of the group were the result of Mercury’s desire to combine theater and music, sound and lighting effects – he was the author of most of the scripts for the videos.
Queen – Live Aid
Private life of Freddie Mercury
The “love” side of Freddie Mercury’s personality is no less interesting than the creative side. It would be wrong to call him a strict homosexual – among his lovers were both men and women. He had a huge sexual appetite and easily won over people.
In the early 70s, Freddie had a long relationship with Mary Austin, whom he was introduced to by bandmate Brian May. Mary worked as a manager in a cosmetics store, and Freddie, along with Taylor, sold clothes from a stall in the market.
Freddie Mercury met Mary Austin in 1970
At first, his extravagance repelled Mary, who was wary of bohemian eccentrics. But getting to know him better, she felt an interest. Freddie didn’t look like anyone she knew. Inspired by his ambition and aplomb, she moved into his little room, where they lived together until the Queen group began to generate enough income to rent an apartment on Holland Road.
Freddie and Mary lived together as spouses
Freddie and Mary Austin were together for six years and called themselves husband and wife. However, Mary felt that something was missing in their marriage. At the beginning of the relationship, Freddie gave her a ring, hinting at the wedding, but in the future he no longer talked about it. One day, when they were shopping, Mary saw a white dress in the window and asked bluntly – isn’t it time for her to get ready for the wedding? The answer “no” was a punch in the gut. She went over in her head the possible reasons for the refusal, but did not understand what was wrong with their relationship.
Freddie Mercury Interview (1977)
It wasn’t until 1977 that Mercury admitted to her that he was gay. He wanted to propose to her and enter into a fictitious marriage “to divert eyes”, but considered that this would be unfair to Mary, who remains the closest person to him, despite her orientation. The musician expected that Mary would make a scandal and no longer want to see him, but she took the news with relief, the doubts that tormented her disappeared.
They were close to the very end
Until the end of their lives, they remained close friends. He bought her an apartment, but most of the time the woman spent in his mansion on Garden Lodge. Mary was part of the family for Freddie. It was she who told his parents the sad news when Freddie died.
Freddie Mercury and Mary Austin
Freddie himself often said that he had always loved Mary and under other circumstances she would have become his wife. He bequeathed most of his $28 million fortune to her.
In 1985, Freddie began a relationship with hairdresser Jim Hutton that continued until his death. Hutton cared for Mercury during the last days of his life, and after that he wrote a book called Mercury and Me.
Freddie Mercury with Jim Hutton
Mercury had an overbite caused by having 4 extra teeth. When his career was just beginning, he wanted to fix his overbite, but he was afraid that this might worsen his vocal abilities.
Last years of life
In 1986, the first rumors appeared about his illness with the immunodeficiency virus. Members of the group stubbornly denied them, but a day before his death, Mercury made an official statement that he had HIV.
Mercury contracted HIV in the mid-80s
The last concert of Freddie Mercury with Queen took place on August 9, 1986. According to various estimates, from 120 to 220 thousand people attended the event. The stage was located in the center of Knebworth House park, fans pitched tents at the entrance a few days before the start. The Queens delivered a helicopter with the emblem of the album “Kind Of Magic”.
Queen’s last concert with Freddie
Mercury galloped around the stage, turned on the crowd, in a word, did everything as usual. Having performed all his hits, Freddie, as usual, went out to the public in a robe, holding a crown in his hands. Nothing foreshadowed that this concert would be the last. The comrades of the group did not guess about his decision either. Yes, at the end of the performance, he complained that he could no longer endure, because pain pierced his whole body, but the musicians did not attach any importance to this.
After leaving Queen, Freddie Mercury began his solo career. In the five years that the illness left him, he managed to record two solo albums: “Mr. Bad Guy” at 1985 and “Barcelona” in 1988. The title track of the second album was written in honor of Montserrat Caballe. Together with the opera diva, he performed in October 1988, rejoicing at this opportunity as a child.
Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe – Barcelona
In May 1989, Queen released their new album The Miracle. Freddie formally remained an important part of the group, but at the time of work on new material, HIV had already turned into AIDS, he was getting worse, which was noticeable by his emaciated figure and pale complexion. The rest of the Queens, although they did not openly admit it, did not hope that they would have time to finish the album before the death of the soloist. However, Freddie continued to live; perhaps because of this, the original title of the album, “The Invisible Man”, was changed to the symbolic “Miracle”.
In the last years of life
Moreover, Freddie starred in five videos released for songs from the new album. The traditional tour in support of the new record did not follow. Since Mercury did not advertise the disease in order not to hurt his relatives, Queen made excuses that they simply decided to deviate from the usual format. In February 1991, Freddie came to the recording of the I’m Going Slightly Mad video. Even make-up artists could not hide the singer’s illness.
Queen – I’m Going Slightly Mad
In the same month, the album “Innuendo” saw the light of day. The track list of plastic included the song “Show Must Go On” – Freddie’s farewell to this world.
Frame from the video for Show Must Go On
On August 18, 1990, Freddie told his relatives about the illness. Sitting in the room with his sister and her husband, he said, “My dear Kash, you must understand one thing: my disease is incurable. I will die”. She looked at his legs, covered with ulcers, and understood everything.
Freddie Mercury’s last public appearance
On November 23, 1991, Mercury spoke about the disease to the press, and on November 24 he died. The official cause of death is bronchopneumonia, which became fatal due to AIDS.
The singer’s body was cremated, and only Mary Austin and his family knew about the whereabouts of the ashes – that was Mercury’s desire. Later, fans found this place – London’s Kensal Green Cemetery
Mercury’s body was cremated
Songs that did not have time to be published during Mercury’s lifetime were included in the album “Made in Heaven” (“Made in Heaven”, 1995). One of Mercury’s dying orders was to transfer the proceeds from the re-release of the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the AIDS Charitable Foundation. Terrence Higgins.
Queen. Days of our lives (excerpt from BBC movie)
In 1992, former members of Queen gave a concert in memory of Freddie at Wembley Stadium, the money raised was donated to AIDS funds.