The way I look at myself, if I do, is that I'm a man of extremes and I think every character is made up of a load of ingredients and I just think I have a very soft side, and a very hard side.
- Freddie Mercury.
Born weighing almost seven pounds on 5 September, 1946, to Bomi and Jer Bulsara, Farrokh Bulsara first found fame in a local 'photo of the year' contest. His parents were Parsees from India and they had emigrated to the island of Zanzibar, Tanzania, so that Bomi could continue his job at the British Colonial Office. When Freddie was eight, he was sent to India, where he attended St Peter's Church of England boarding school, near Bombay; there he showed promise in music, art and sports - it is also here that picked up the moniker Freddie. He performed in a variety of plays, often playing women, as well as being an accomplished boxer and public singer. In 1955 he achieved the school's best-all-rounder cup. In 1961 he formed the band The Hectics with his friend Farang Irani and three other friends; Freddie played piano. He left school in 1963 and returned to his family in Zanzibar, after failing in the Class 10 examinations. In 1964 a bloody revolution took place in Zanzibar, forcing the family to leave for England, where they settled in Feltham, Surrey.
Life in England
Though his family feared coming to England with its strange culture and cold climate, Freddie revelled in the new colours, fashions and hairstyles. Despite having no formal qualifications, he could enrol in art college, so he chose to go to Isleworth Polytechnic School at 18, leaving two years later with an A in art 'A'-level. After this he joined the Ealing School of Art1 and became part of 1960s bohemian London. He switched from graphic design to fashion halfway through his course but his penchant for music remained. At the time, however, everyone was into music and Freddie was quite shy, so nobody thought he was that serious about it. He went back to art as a subject and left the school in June, 1969 with a diploma in graphic art and design.
A Liverpool band called Ibex travelled down to London in August, 1969 and were looking for a better singer than the one they had; Freddie jumped at the chance. He had a unique vocal talent; he could cover four octaves, which put him in a fairly exclusive club. His campness earned him the name 'the old queen' in Ibex. This was when he picked up a microphone stand and the bottom fell off - soon this became his trademark image. Within ten days he had learned their set and added a few songs of his own. They then travelled to Bolton, Lancashire, and played his very first public performance. After changing the band's name to Wreckage, they still had little success and soon they had disbanded. Freddie then went on to have a fleeting part in the band Sour Milk Sea. When that band broke up as well, Freddie searched for a new group to work with.
Freddie was a big fan of the music and style of Smile, a local band, but he was very keen to change their image after he became involved with them. Smile's lead singer Tim Staffell did not feel comfortable being a theatrical showman, and left to join the band Humpy Bong (which was formed by The Bee Gees' drummer Colin Peterson). That left guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor with no lead singer, so they asked Freddie to front them, and he accepted the role in 1970.
Bulsara to Mercury
The first album the new line-up Smile members wrote contained a song called 'My Fairy King' which had the lyric 'oh mother Mercury, what have you done to me?' Afterwards Freddie claimed that the 'mother' from that line was his mother, and so he would become Mercury. Soon he had changed his name legally to Freddie Mercury. With his new persona, Freddie felt that he could be much more flamboyant on stage, yet be gentle and shy off it.
Love of My Life
Around that time, the band members were interested in Kensington's underground fashion. One local clothes shop employed many beautiful girls, one of whom was Mary Austin, who subsequently dated Brian May. When Brian realised how much Freddie liked her, he stepped aside, thinking that they'd make a good match as they were both shy. It took Freddie about six months to pluck up the courage to ask Mary out on a date; five months after that they moved in together. They broke up six years later after Freddie came to realise his bisexuality, but they remained the closest of friends until his death.
Smile, under Freddie's direction, changed the band's name to Queen for its obvious sexual connotations but also the regal majesty of it, and they advertised for a bassist. After going through several bass players who didn't work out, John Deacon joined the band in 1971. The band soon gained a reputation for their relaxed glam rock style. Freddie also designed the band's logo based on astrological birth signs: a Q adorned with two fairies for Virgo (Freddie); two lions for the Leos (Roger and John) and a crab for Cancer (Brian): for extra artistic interest he put a phoenix above the Q. For a concert in 1973 he sought out Zandra Rhodes, who had designed for T-Rex. The rest of the tale, though, is better explained in the h2g2 Entry on Queen.
In the early 1980s Freddie went to New York2 to escape Queen; they were not finished with each other but the members agreed on taking a break. Queen had just released the album Hot Space which, after a long wait, was not well-received by fans. One of the producers had a bet with Freddie that a child could be gestated faster than the album would be made - and lo and behold, Freddie became a godfather before the album was completed.
Freddie contemplated the idea of recording a solo album in New York, but ended up flying to Munich to record it as he was not treated like a celebrity there. Mr Bad Guy, Freddie's first solo album, was an interesting affair and many thought that it would see the end of Queen. The year before it was released, however, Queen's album The Works was received to great acclaim. Their performance at Live Aid was generally thought to be the best set of the day, dispelling any fans' fears of retirement. In 1985, Freddie released his solo album. Adored by fans but a commercial flop, it sold 160,000 copies. Although not a bad amount, for someone of Freddie's status it was a disappointment.
Around the recording of Mr Bad Guy, Freddie and his friend Michael Jackson attempted a duet for possible inclusion on either of their solo albums. 'There Must Be More To Life Than This' was written by Freddie and sung solo on his album. 'State of Shock' was penned by Michael Jackson and Randy Hansen, but was later released with Mick Jagger. The reason neither record was released with the two together was because they were not happy with the results, and at one point in 1993 denied that the songs were even recorded. With the growth in popularity of Internet downloading, these two songs are technically being distributed, but Jackson still refuses to release them, as had Freddie.
In 1983 Freddie went to see Pavarotti perform in Covent Garden; that night he heard Spanish singer Senora Montserrat Caballé, widely acknowledged to be Spain's greatest living soprano. He was amazed by her voice and arranged a meeting with her. They stayed up until six in the morning, singing together and playing music. It was then that they came up with the idea of doing a duet; she then asked how many songs were on a rock album. When he answered 'ten', she decided they should record ten songs together. In the end they made eight songs for the 1988 album Barcelona with the famous title track of the same name going on to be the theme for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. The album was not well received commercially, but many critics found it experimentally interesting; it is certainly unique.
Illness and Death
When he told his close family and friends that he was ill with HIV, Freddie insisted that it should not be discussed publicly so as not to upset his fans. Queen put aside their differences and came together for two last albums, The Miracle and Innuendo. The recording of these albums together with the support received from his loved ones provided Freddie with the motivation needed to survive for so long after the initial diagnosis. The press had, for a long time, suspected that Freddie had AIDS: the sleeve of The Miracle had the four faces of the members mixed together; and the last two music videos he made3, 'I'm Going Slightly Mad' and 'These Are The Days of Our Lives', were both shot in black and white. This helped to confirm their suspicions; of course everyone who knew him personally abided by Freddie's wishes and denied it emphatically.
Towards the end of 1991 he became devastatingly ill; as time went by he knew his life was going to end soon. Freddie barely left his lavishly-furnished 28-room home in Kensington, London and had it converted into a clinic. With the press constantly camped outside, Freddie became a virtual recluse, receiving only pre-arranged visitors. On 23 November, he released a public statement to the press admitting he was suffering from AIDS; within 24 hours he had died of AIDS-related bronchial pneumonia.
On the day of Freddie's death, his doctor commented that he had 'slipped back a little bit today'. His parents Bomi and Jer came to visit and made their farewells. His friend Dave Clark and long-term boyfriend Jim Hutton were changing his clothes when they noticed his chest had stopped moving. Mary Austin, who had spent most of the day at Freddie's bedside, had to return to her home on an errand, and missed Freddie's passing by a mere ten minutes. At midnight of 24 November, 1991, a press release was issued informing the world of Freddie's death.
The next day Elton John introduced a hastily-compiled film tribute to Freddie. Four days later his body was cremated after a small private funeral in the traditions of the Zoroastrian faith. Freddie had asked that money be donated in his memory to the AIDS charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, and that 'Bohemian Rhapsody' be re-released with 'These Are The Days Of Our Lives' as a B-side, with all the sales being donated to the Trust. The song achieved a Christmas number one, the second time it had hit the top spot. The Terrence Higgins Trust benefited from Freddie's generosity to the tune of over a million pounds.
A week after Freddie's death, Brian and Roger appeared on an early morning television show looking very drained, and informed the world that there would be a concert to 'celebrate the life of Freddie Mercury'. Asked whether Queen would carry on, Brian said: 'There is no Queen without Freddie.'
Freddie was very generous to his loyal friends in his will, leaving his house in Kensington, West London to Mary Austin, and cash bequests to his partner Jim Hutton, his chef Joe Fannelli, and his assistant Peter Freestone.
Concert For Life
At the British Music Awards in February, 1992, while collecting a Brit Award for best single of 1991 as well as a posthumous award for Freddie, Queen made concrete announcements about the concert. Without any announcements as to what the concert would be, or who would even be there, the tickets sold out within hours the next day. A Concert For Life: A Tribute For Freddie Mercury was held in Wembley Stadium on Easter Monday, 20 April, 1992. The first half featured a variety of songs from Metallica, Extreme, Def Leppard and Guns N'Roses. Bob Geldof sang 'Too Late, God' which he told the crowd he wrote with Freddie in mind, and U2 appeared on video from California. The second half of the concert was Queen+: the three surviving members of Queen accompanied by different singers for each song, occasionally with Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath for extra guitar. As well as a rock celebration, the concert raised awareness for AIDS and marked the opening of the Mercury Phoenix Trust, which raises funds for AIDS charities around the world.
Made In Heaven
In 1995 Queen came together to release Made In Heaven, an album that contained completed samples of work recorded before Freddie's death. In 1997, moved by the death of Princess Diana, but also with reference to Freddie, the trio released their only song as a threesome, 'No-One But You (Only The Good Die Young)' which reached number 12 in the UK charts - though it was only released due to pressure from fans. It was only meant to appear on the compilation album Queen Rocks.
The much-loved and admired flamboyant singer left a legacy of recordings to be enjoyed by future generations, and new fans are discovering his musical talents thanks to the advent of websites like YouTube. Freddie's powerfully moving rendition of Brian May's 'Who Wants to Live Forever?' is frequently played at funerals.
Freddie's charity, the Mercury Phoenix Trust, has funded a variety of projects, mainly teaching AIDS awareness in schools all over the world, including Angola, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Denmark, Ethiopia, France, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Holland, India, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Switzerland, Thailand, Uganda, the UK, the US, Vietnam, Zanzibar and Zimbabwe.