Memories of Queen and Freddie Mercury: Inspired by Seeing “Bohemian Rhapsody”
I grew up with Queen from the moment I was born. I can honestly remember listening to the first few Queen albums when I was in my playpen in the old house I used to live in with my parents. My Mum was a huge Queen fan and often played all their albums when my Dad was out at work in the day before he went onto the nightshift with his job as a mechanical engineer. Before I was born my Mum got a half tabby/half Siamese kitten called Freddie. I often wondered if he was named after Freddie Mercury, but my Mum says that he had that name when she got him. Maybe he was named after Freddie Mercury by whoever she got him from, who knows! Freddie the cat lived till he was 18 years old until he eventually passed away from kidney failure.
Anyway, I digress. I can remember listening to the “Queen 1” and “Queen 2” albums, as well as the “Sheer Heart Attack”, “A Night at the Opera” and “A Day at the Races” albums by the time I was just 2 years old. But more than that, even at that young age, I was drawn to Freddie Mercury in a big way.
There was something very captivating about Freddie, with his exotic looks and long black hair, and I would stare at Queen’s album covers completely drawn to him. I didn’t know what Freddie had, but whatever it was, he had it in spades.
When I was 3 years old my Mum took me to see “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” at the Odeon cinema in Foregate Street, Worcester. Just up the road from that used to be W H Smiths – today it is the Flames Grill and Restaurant. At the back of the store was the record department, and I remember going in there after the film because my Mum wanted to buy the new Queen album. That album was “News of the World”, and when we got home she put it on the record deck. I can remember so vividly at 3 years old clapping along to “We Will Rock You”, a song that is entrenched firmly in my mind to this day along with “We Are The Champions”, which became my song and the anthem of my life.
I have vivid memories of being looked after by my beloved Aunty Marie at her house when it was the school holidays and sitting with her upstairs in her sewing room while she worked. Bless her, she let me play Queen to my heart’s content, and I bet she got fed up of hearing “The Prophets Song” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” from their “A Night At The Opera Album” so many times! I would sit and listen to Queen while writing stories and reading books, and she would be sewing away on her machine. Her upstairs sewing room was covered with Elvis posters, just as my bedroom had posters of Queen and Freddie Mercury on all the walls.
I also have very strong memories of my Dad playing Status Quo, Jean Michel Jarre and The Eagles when I was very little in his old white car, which was a Peugeot. My Mum listened a lot to stuff like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, The Stranglers (No More Heroes is one of my favourites to this day) and David Bowie. But none of these, no matter how much I liked them, came even close to how I felt about Queen and Freddie Mercury. The only band that comes a close second to me is Status Quo, with my rock god Rick Parfitt RIP.
Don’t Stop Me Now, I’m Having Such a Good Time, I’m Learning The Lyrics
As every Queen album was released I learnt the lyrics to every song off by heart. Some of the lyrics were a bit questionable for someone of such a young age to learn, especially songs like “Get Down Make Love”, but learn them I did! I knew everything there was to know about Queen and soaked up information and knowledge about every band member like a sponge. I collected and read articles in the press about them, read books – you name it!
In the film “Bohemian Rapsody”, the recently released biopic about Queen and Freddie Mercury, there are a couple of lines in it that hit me like a ton of bricks. Queen are having their first meeting with Jim Reid at EMI records.
John Reid: So, tell me. What makes Queen any different from all the other wannabe rockstars I meet?
Freddie Mercury: I’ll tell you what it is, Mr. Reid. We’re four misfits who don’t belong together, playing for other misfits. They’re the outcasts right at the back of the room. We’re pretty sure they feel that they don’t belong either. But we belong to them.
Hearing that was like having a lightbulb go off in my head, and I finally understood why Queen and Freddie Mercury had such an impact on me. Queen were indeed a band of misfits, for misfits. They aimed to appeal to those who didn’t quite fit in, who felt that they didn’t have a place in the world, and they did that incredibly well. As someone who had those feelings from as far back as I can remember, that I didn’t fit in and didn’t belong, I could completely relate to this. When I was 44 I was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, and so much made sense to me about why I was the way I was. As someone who is neurodiverse I don’t fit into the “normal” conventions, but I do still contribute a lot to the world. With Queen I did belong, I did have a place in the world, and they belonged to me. They were my band, and they showed me the way.
The excitement I felt whenever Queen released a new album was palpable, and I couldn’t wait for my Mum to buy each one as it came out. From “Jazz” to the “Flash Gordon Soundtrack” to “The Game” to “Hot Space” to “The Works”. I would be like a cat on hot bricks before every album was released waiting for it, a bit like how I’ve been this last few weeks waiting for the “Bohemian Rhapsody” film to come out!
As each album was released and represented a change of direction for Queen, Freddie Mercury also changed along with the passing of time. He cut off his gorgeous long black hair, grew a moustache and lost his flamboyant Zandra Rhodes designed stage costumes in favour of tight jeans and T-shirts. I didn’t understand what the significance of this change was at such a young age, but eventually I did understand it and why Freddie did it.
In 1985 my cousin Maria who is a singer and actress landed a role as one of the 3 backing singers on the musical “Time” in the Dominion Theatre in London, written by Dave Clark and starring Cliff Richard. As a solo artist Freddie Mercury recorded the title track to the musical, also called “Time”. My parents and I went to see my cousin in the show when it first opened, and we got to go backstage to meet Cliff. Had we gone the day before, Freddie Mercury was there, and I would have met him. I was so upset that I missed out on meeting Freddie! I wasn’t a huge fan of Cliff Richard and while it was exciting at the age of 11 to meet such a famous person, he certainly wasn’t Freddie Mercury!
I remember my cousin telling me that once she knocked on Cliff’s dressing room door when Freddie was at the theatre recording the video for “Time”, and he was sprawled out on a sofa in there and said to her “Hello darling, come and join us!” My cousin got to meet him, and I didn’t, I was so jealous! It is ironic that the musical “We Will Rock You” which was based on Queen’s songs ran in the Dominion Theatre for 12 years from 2002 to 2014, a musical I went to see at least 3 or 4 times during that time.
It’s 12 noon in London, 7am in Philadelphia, and Around the World it’s Time for Live Aid
Then came 13 July 1985 – Live Aid. Like many I was glued to the TV watching it, and I was 11 years old. Status Quo opened the event in London, but it was Queen and Freddie who completely stole the show. Their 20 minutes on stage went down in history, Freddie had the audience in the palm of his hand and Queen were instantly catapulted to one of the greatest rock bands in the world on the back of that performance. Every time I watch that 20 minute performance, and I’ve seen it many, many times since it happened, I get goose-bumps and I literally shiver from head to toe.
More albums followed – “A Kind of Magic”, “The Miracle” and the last one before Freddie died “Innuendo”. I was desperate to go and see Queen on their “Magic” tour in 1986, but I was just too young then. I even loved all of Freddie’s solo work, his album “Mr Bad Guy”, his recording of the song “Time” from the musical, his recording of “Barcelona” with Montserrat Caballé who passed away a few weeks ago and his cover of “The Great Pretender” by The Platters. So apt was that song for Freddie and the lyrics were especially poignant as I suspect he “pretended” his entire life, keeping the real Freddie hidden. I can relate to that a lot.
As a teenager I got into heavier metal such as Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Poison, Motley Crue and Kiss. Thanks to my ex-boyfriend Nick (not his real name) I also got into thrash metal which I loved and still love to this day such as Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, Exodus, Cathedral, King Diamond…I could go on. But I never, ever lost my love of Queen or Freddie Mercury. They were still top for me, no matter what else came along.
Rumours had been circulating for a while about Freddie’s ailing health, and although I had heard of AIDS I was too young to fully understand what it was. As I grew older I did understand it and the impact that it had on the lives of so many. Then I saw Queen and Freddie on the Brit Awards in 1990 and he looked extremely ill and frail, and I was very worried for him.
The day he died, 24 November 1991, is a day I will never forget. I woke up to the news that he had passed away age 45 and I was inconsolable for days. I was 17 years old and it honestly felt like a member of my family had died. I am beginning to feel my own mortality a bit as I turned 45 on 14 October this year, which is the age that Freddie was when he died.
I remember watching the Freddie Mercury tribute concert on 20 April 1992 with Brian May saying as it opened, “Good evening Wembley and the world. We are here tonight to celebrate the life, and work, and dreams, of one Freddie Mercury. We’re gonna give him the biggest send off in history!”
And what a send-off they gave him! I remember seeing George Michael singing “Somebody to Love” with the rest of Queen, It wasn’t as good as Freddie, but I’m sure Freddie would have loved it. There were also stellar performances from Def Leppard and Metallica to name but a few.
No-one could replace Freddie Mercury in Queen for me, and in a way I’m glad the rest of the band didn’t try to replace him. Even when they did tour again with Paul Rogers of Free and Adam Lambert, they never, ever said they were replacing Freddie, which was the right thing to do. Freddie was unique with a voice you could listen to for hours and a stage presence that no-one else before him or since him has possessed.
I did go and see Queen and Paul Rogers perform live twice, once In Hyde Park in London in 2005 and once in Birmingham in 2008, but it just wasn’t the same. But what I do remember the most about those gigs is Brian May coming out onto the stage with an acoustic guitar which was empty except for him. He sat on a chair to sing “Love of my Life” and next to him was another chair that was empty – for Freddie. I was in floods of tears both times! I also love the recordings that were done as “Queen and Paul Rogers”, “The Cosmos Rocks” is another of my favourite albums.
Sadly, bassist John Deacon was so affected by Freddie’s death that he retired completely from music bar a handful of small performances in the 90’s, leaving only Brian May and Roger Taylor to carry on Freddie’s legacy and keep his memory alive for new generations. Photos have surfaced recently of John looking old and gaunt, but he rarely if ever appears in public today.
This photo is my Freddie, the Freddie who I remember so vividly from my childhood. The Freddie who I was so drawn to and captivated by.
From what I have read Freddie Mercury was as flamboyant in real life as he was on the stage. He was outrageous, he partied hard, he lived hard and he lived fast, and sadly that was ultimately his downfall. But I also think he was sad, lonely, tortured by confusion over his sexuality and was desperate for love. So many people all over the world loved and adored him, and I hope he knew before he died just how much he was loved and adored by fans just like me. I think Freddie lived more in the 45 years he was here and gave more to the world in those 45 years than many of us ever will.
I know I am not the only one who he touched through his songs and albums, his charisma, his stage presence and persona, and I know that Queen will be “my” band until the day I die. I have already decided that when my time comes there should be at least one Queen song played at my funeral, and this has been documented in my funeral wishes. I’m not sure which one yet, possibly “The Show Must Go On”, but maybe something a bit more uplifting.
When I first had my heart broken as a teenager I listened to Queen non-stop, and particularly to the song “Who Needs You” from the “Jazz” album. When my ex-husband and I had our first dance on the day we got married in August 1996 it was to “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. We didn’t have a slow song to dance to, but we moved to the rock n’ roll beat of Queen. When I got married to my second husband I remember Queen playing at the lunch we had in a local pub after the ceremony. I didn’t ask for Queen to be played, but played it was. These are just a few examples of how they have always been with me.
Thank you, Farrokh Bulsara AKA Freddie Mercury, and thank you Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon for being such an integral part of my life. “Bohemian Rhapsody” the film has given me the chance to revisit all these memories, many of them happy ones, and bring them to the forefront of my mind again.
There was no-one like Freddie Mercury and no band like Queen before them, and there has been no-one like Freddie or Queen since. I doubt there ever will be, and they are firmly cemented in history forever. “Bohemian Rhapsody” the film has given me the chance to see Queen in all their glory, bringing them all to life for me in a way that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. Rami Malek is as captivating as Freddie Mercury was, and gives a stellar performance in the film. I’m sure I will be watching it many, many times to come.
For me, despite what I’ve been through and what challenges life has thrown at me, the show must go on. One thing I do know for sure is that Queen and Freddie Mercury will be with me wherever life takes me – always.
What are your memories of Queen and Freddie Mercury? Did he and the band inspire or touch you in some way over the years? Please leave your memories in the comments below.