Freddie Mercury &Amp; Montserrat Caballé - Barcelona

As a nuevo box-set that Mercury’s solo work is released, Nick Levine considers los Queen legend’s mysterious identification – and his facility relationship with both his race y sexuality.

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In 1984, dos years delaware the homosexual Men’s Health peligro organisation was formed in nuevo York come combat Aids, Freddie Mercury scored his first solamente hit with Love Kills. Ns song’s lyrics don’t point to the disease which would claim ns singer’s life seven years later, however it’s feasible that the title can be a thinly-veiled reference. “Everything was about subtext con Freddie Mercury,” says nombre de niño Aston, writer of Breaking debajo The walls Of Heartache: How music Came Out.

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Love kills is contained on never ever Boring, a new box collection gathering much of the cosas Mercury recorded away representar Queen, consisting of his only solamente album, 1985’s Mr poor Guy, and 1988’s Barcelona, one ambitious LP participation with ópera singer montetat Caballé. The release offers ns timely chance to check out Mercury’s complicated identity y status as ns queer icon, particularly since último year’s enormously effective biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, to be accused of playing down, or ‘straightwashing’, los singer’s relationships con men. 

It’s difficult to know how Mercury might have defined his sexuality because, in public in ~ least, he never ever quite handle it head on. In his lifetime, inglaterra newspaper The sun branded los singer ns “bisexual roca star”, y in recent años the mitad has typically referred come him as gay. However when música magazine NME request Mercury in 1974, “So how around being bent?” Mercury replied: “You’re ns crafty cow. Let"s placed it this way: over there were tiempo when i was young and green. It"s uno thing schoolboys walk through. I"ve had actually my share of schoolboy pranks. I’m no going to fancy further.” On another occasion, the answered a similar question by saying playfully: “I’m as contento as uno daffodil, my dear!” 


Though Mercury was living with carga Hutton, his male companion of six years, at the time of his death, the bequeathed los lion’s re-publishing of his heritage to mar Austin, uno woman he dated for a ir a buscar length of hora in the ‘70s y remained near to. Austin still resides at Garden Lodge, ns Georgian mansion in Kensington where Mercury invested his final years. She rarely offers interviews, however told ns Daily e-mail in 2013 that Mercury said prior to he died: “If things had actually been different, girlfriend would have actually been my wife y this would have actually been her anyway.”

A new identity

Mercury’s sexuality isn’t the only facet of his identification that’s complicated. In 1946, he to be born Farrokh Bulsara to Indian Parsi parental on the isla of Zanzibar, then a británico protectorate and now part of Tanzania. He attended British-style boarding schools in India, where he began using the name Freddie. Los adopted castle Mercury came later, after his family members emigrated to ns UK in 1964, and he began to pursue a música career in west London. “I think changing his name was component of him assuming this different skin,” Queen bandmate Brian may said in a 2000 documentary. “I think it helped him to be this human that he want to be. The Bulsara human being was still there, but for los public he to be going to it is in this different character, this god."

This character also helped him come dodge few of the racial prejudices of los era. “There’s alguno room for marrón people in the Western musical industry, and Freddie type of knew that,” says Leo Kalyan, uno queer inglaterra Pakistani y Indian singer-songwriter who hails Mercury together “the biggest performer of every time”. Kalyan says that Mercury was “smart sufficient to know that he basically had to masquerade as un white male to succeed”, y says his south Asian legacy is tho not completely understood this particular day “because south Asians are still on purpose ignored within los Western musical industry”.

Mercury’s sexuality isn’t currently ignored in the same way, but there’s still no definitive way to descrito him. “I think if Freddie to be living now los way he stayed in his very own lifetime, wednesday probably call him ‘queer’ quite than ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’,” claims Ryan Butcher, editor that LGBT website PinkNews. “It no just about sexuality con him; that was around his entirety identity y the flamboyant gente he projected on stage, which is one of the main points Queen are well-known for.”

But due to the fact that Mercury never ever came fuera as LGBT or aligned himself publicly with the LGBT-rights movement, it could be said that his condition as ns queer icon is questionable. His bandmate Brian may said in 2008: “I recognize that all with his life Fred didn’t think the whether he was homosexual or not was important.” However, Aston points el fin that Mercury came to be famous in ns 1970s, a hora when artists rarely spoke openly about their sexuality. “David Bowie did descrito himself together bisexual ,” Aston says, “but he had the la seguridad net of a wife y child.” Aston likewise points fuera de that we readily take on Judy Garland as uno queer icon “even despite she didn’t make statements about anything to do con homophobia and LGBT acceptance”.

By 1986, when Mercury y Queen offered their many iconic power at Live Aid, over there were part openly contento performers in los mainstream; the UK’s biggest-selling single that year was Don’t leave Me This means by ns Communards, who frontman jimmy Somerville was proudly gay y highly involved with los LGBT-rights movement. Nevertheless, Wham! singer george Michael continued to be in los closet, and Culture Club’s Boy george had navigated his an initial flush of fame un few la edad earlier through toning abajo his homosexuality. “Although identificación famously stated at los time that I’d rather have actually a cup of tea than sex, my sex life was actually really rampant,” Boy george told los Guardian in 2007. “But I’d been carried up to think it to be dirty y wrong, and not to be made public.”


Mercury’s strategy to reconciling his exclusive life with his public persona as los frontman that a rock band with ns sizeable straight, male fanbase was playful y sophisticated. Because he never ever responded to rumours around his sexuality, that was basic for this fanbase to translate his super-flamboyant y theatrical performing style as what Aston call “a acampar laugh” rather than other evincing queerness. Mercury’s solamente song life on mine Own, initially released in 1985, however which got to number one in los UK dos years after his death delaware getting un club-friendly remix, is a catchy expression that loneliness that paints Mercury as uno bachelor, however not necessarily uno “confirmed bachelor” in los now rather dated euphemistic sense. “He was so outrageously camp, that was practically like ns double bluff,” Aston adds. Ryan Butcher go further, describing Mercury as “almost ns covert agent for ns LGBT community, dropping these tiny seeds that queer culture into ns heterosexual mindset”.

In the ‘80s, Mercury was known for his tight white vests y moustache – his take it on the Castro Clone look the originated in smo Francisco’s queer Castro district and became popular in the gay underground, however which to be less familia to mainstream música fans. It could be argued that Mercury was effectively hiding in level sight. Certainly, he no let his massive fame stop him representar visiting extendido London contento venues favor Heaven y the royal Vauxhall Tavern. Actress Cleo Rocos wrote in her 2013 memoir the she, Mercury and comedian Kenny Everett even managed to sneak Princess Diana into the latter to meet by disguising her in drag.

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The clues he gave

Perhaps one of the most daring methods in i beg your pardon Mercury express his naturalmente campness remained in Queen’s mil novecientos ochenta y cuatro video for ns single identificación Want to rest Free, in i beg your pardon he and his Queen bandmates dressed together female characters representar the británico soap opera Coronation Street, ns decision i beg your pardon damaged your career in los US. Brian may recalled in 2017: “I remember gift on los promo tourism in ns Midwest of estados unidos de américa and people’s faces turning ashen y they would certainly say, ‘No, us can’t juego this. Us can’t possibly juego this. Girlfriend know, the looks homosexual.’”

In Queen’s music, meanwhile, there were always clues around Mercury’s personal life for fans who want – and had the knowledge of the homosexual scene – come spot them. On Queen’s mil novecientos setenta y ocho hit Don’t prevent Me Now, Mercury sings the he wants “to make ns supersonic woman of you” and “a supersonic man fuera of you”. In los video, the wears un T-shirt from Mineshaft, a ancha New York BDSM contento bar of ns time. Even ns band’s name, Queen, have the right to be viewed as a winking allusion to its frontman’s identity. “It’s so apparent what ‘Queen’ is gaining at,” claims Kalyan, “but when identificación told mine mum un few año ago, she couldn’t think it. She said she’d always thought that ‘Queen’ simply meant regal or majestic.”

In a casta way, Kalyan claims Mercury’s música contains signifiers of his sur Asian heritage, citing los use of the Arabic indigenous ‘Bismillah’ in Bohemian Rhapsody. “Only uno person with an awareness of Islamic culture would have actually known the word, i beg your pardon is los first native in los Koran , y put that into uno song prefer Bohemian Rhapsody,” the says. Kalyan adds that among the sur Asian community, “it’s an extremely common understanding that Freddie to be Indian and had to be massively influenced by Bollywood singers like Lata Mangeshkar, who is well-known for having actually an incredible vocal range like Freddie”.


But once it came to both his sexuality y his ethnicity, Mercury favoured privacy over direct proclamations until the end of his life. Together Kalyan point out out, “he no talk around going to institution in india or his love because that Lata Mangeshkar. That wasn’t component of his narrative”. Nor was his sexuality: on 22 November 1991, following what he referred to as “enormous conjecture” in the press, Mercury finally released ns statement confirming the he had actually been experiment HIV positive, and had Aids, but made cuales mention of his partnership with jim Hutton. Around veinticuatro hours later, the died. “Think about ns immediacy of the – one of ns biggest stars on los planet announces he has actually Aids, then die of los disease,” says Ryan Butcher, that calls that “a society shock that seems virtually unfathomable today”. Privately, Mercury had been diagnosed as HIV hopeful four years earlier, y Butcher suggests, speculatively, the his friendship with ns late Diana, Princess of gales while living con HIV and Aids could have been un contributing coeficiente in she decision to promote far better awareness of the disease. Yet this, prefer so much con Mercury, is other we’ll probably never understand for certain.

Nearly veintiocho years after his death, the de verdad Freddie Mercury remains cherished. “At this stage, he’s not just an icon, but a británico national treasure,” claims Aston. Kalyan calls him “a massive queer icon” y “a marrón South oriental icon in western music”. Whether Mercury would have liked this terms or not, it’s hard not come respect what he accomplished in his lifetime. In an ser when homophobia y racism were far an ext prevalent than they room today, Freddie Mercury was los queer, south Asian frontman of los band that released one of rock"s most iconic singles, Bohemian Rhapsody, and the best-selling album in UK chart history, Queen"s best Hits. But it’s likewise arguable that the mystique he cultivated roughly his identity, whether he felt forced into the or not, has actually only burnished his condition as among pop’s most captivating enigmas.

Never Boring: The Freddie Mercury Solo Box collection is out now

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