Freddie Mercury needs little by way of introduction. Depending on the incarnation, he was the exotic Zandra Rhodes-wearing androgynous vamp; he was the heavily moustachioed strutting icon of the early 1980s, hitting his zenith at Live Aid in 1985; and he was the ballet and opera obsessive, a passion that endured for his whole life and informed much of his music. Moreover, he was, of course, the inimitable frontman of Queen with a four-octave range vocal talent that many argue has never been equalled in rock.

The child of Bomi and Jer Bulsara, he was born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946 in Zanzibar, and educated at an English-style boarding schools in India, where he took up the piano and was noted amongst his friends for his love of western pop and an uncanny ability to listen to music and instantly reproduce it. At 18, however, the family fled the Zanzibar Revolution, swapping life on an island in the Indian Ocean for the somewhat less exotic climes of Middlesex.

If Freddie was at first underwhelmed by the suburbs – as far from the epicentre of the Swinging Sixties as they could be – he soon put that right by enrolling at Ealing Art College. At this time, he also ran a clothing stall at the legendary Kensington Market, as well as trying his luck in a number of bands. Only one stuck: fatefully, that band would go on to become Queen.

Freddie and his bandmates Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon, were influenced by artists as diverse as Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, Elvis and the Beach Boys. It was a musical concoction that evidently worked: Queen sold some 300 million records from its beginnings in 1970, right up to now, some thirty years after Freddie’s tragic death from pneumonia as a complication of AIDS.

Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985 is ranked amongst the best ever in rock history. Their most famous song, Bohemian Rhapsody – penned by Freddie – stayed at number one for nine weeks, and helped pioneer the music video. They worked with David Bowie, and as a solo artist, Freddie sang with the opera star Montserrat Caballe on the studio album, Barcelona. And yet despite all this and his on-stage flamboyance, Freddie Mercury was famously shy in person. For that reason, he generally eschewed the press and interviews are relatively rare for an international pop star. Here, we pick those that offer glimpses into an enduringly enigmatic figure. Appetite ignited? Now go and spend happy hours watching their concerts online too – after all, as they promise, they will rock you.

Queen on Sounds Unlimited in Perth, 1976

In 1976, Queen’s Night At The Opera tour hit Australia. That was the album that featured Bohemian Rhapsody and, in this footage, they are asked, tongue-in-cheek, why the song features lyrics about Beelzebub. After a groan, Freddie replies, ‘I mean, why do we use anything? It doesn’t necessarily mean that I study demonology or anything, I just love the world Beelzebub,’ he giggles. We like the use of ‘necessarily’. The band also goes on to describe its sound as ranging from 1920s Vaudeville to raw heavy rock to the ballad, all as it shrugs off charges of campness.

Interview At Freddie’s Home With Bob Harris, 1977

Who doesn’t love a snoop inside a rock star’s home? In this relaxed interview, Freddie talks about confounding the expectations of the media, which had collectively pegged Queen from the off as a heavy rock band, as well as the origins of the band’s name. ‘At the time it was outrageous. It lent itself to a lot of things – the theatre, it was very grand,’ he explains.

1977 Interview

Many of the interviews that you can still view are with Freddie in the 1980s. It is fascinating to see, then, this clip of a chat in the seventies. It is post Bohemian Rhapsody, so he was already a mega-star. And yet, somehow, he is less on edge than in later press. Here he gives insight into the band’s ‘numerous rows’ with management over their biggest-ever six-minute-long hit. He says, ‘We thought, there’s no point, you either hear it in its entirety, or you pick another song. We were so confident. It was a risk, and we thought it was either going to be an enormous flop, or a huge success.’ The rest is, as they say, rock history.

Freddie Talks About David Bowie

Queen and David Bowie famously recorded Under Pressure together. Having been friends for a long time, here we hear Freddie talk about the experience in a short montage of videos, in which he describes the incidental way in which they just happened to be in the studio together in Switzerland and casually improvised what would go on to be a major hit, all before a minor falling out.

Rudi Dolezal at Musicland Studios, 1984

Freddie is often pretty reticent in interviews. This, however, sees him on good form – even if he does kick off the interview by saying, ‘I love my job but I hate talking to people like you.’ His first press conference in four years, it was given in support of a Queen tour; as he says, ‘after thirteen years, us four old ladies are still rocking away.’ A highlight comes when he vows that when people stop buying the music, he will stop and do something else, such as ‘become a strip artist, or something.’

The Bigger the Better Interview, 1985

As Freddie prepared to release his first solo album, at that time tentatively titled Made In Heaven, he gave this interview to promote it. Incredibly candid, he talks about the loneliness of his life, of living alone, and of wanting love – before good-naturedly saying, ‘Come on now, ask me something else!’

Freddie Talks About Brian May

Freddie and Queen’s guitarist Brian May famously had a tempestuous relationship, out of which emerged much great music. As he describes here, when the pair were in a room together, within five minutes, sparks would fly. He jokes, ‘I haven’t hit him yet – there’s still time!’

Queen Live Aid Interview, 1985

Queen are roundly agreed to have been the band of the day at Bob Geldof’s famous Live Aid concert. Here, just before their career-defining performance, the band discusses how they came to be involved, and discuss the naysayers who imagine that they would flop without the extravagant backdrops the band was so famous for.

Freddie’s Last Interview, 1987

Freddie is rumoured to have been diagnosed with HIV in 1987 though, since he did not announce his illness until the day before he died, still less talk about it, few really know the truth. This, however, is the last known interview with him, and it took place four years before his death in 1991. There are no signs of his being anything less than in good spirits however, as he discusses his collaboration with opera singer Montserrat Caballe on their hit song, Barcelona; indeed, this interview comes the day after the duo performed it at the Royal Opera House. ‘I’ve loved her for years,’ he says. ‘I think it worked when I went to Barcelona recently and I did a TV show and they asked me, and I said, ‘She’s the best singer in the world and I’d loved to sing with her.’ She must have seen it because she called up the office and asked to do something.’

By Nancy Alsop
February 2021

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