Sharon Feinstein, Sunday Magazine (May 1985)
As thousands of adoring fans flock to buy his first solo album this week, Freddie Mercury tells of the one thing that all his success and all his millions can’t ever buy…Sharon Feinstein reports
Freddie Mercury, the outrageous front-man of superband Queen, is addicted to his phenomenal success, but his fame and fortune have also been the source of his deepest misery.
Freddie loves creating bizarre stage images and thirives on the roar of his audiences and the beat of his music. But when the lights go down at the end of a show, he is left feeling lost and lonely.
“You can have everything in the world and still be the loneliest man, and that is the most bitter type of loneliness,” says Freddie.
“Success has brought me world idolisation and millions of pounds, but it’s prevented me from having the one thing we all need — a loving, on-going relationship.
“It’s like the old Hollywood stories where all those wonderful actresses just couldn’t carry on a relationship because their careers came first.”That’s the way it is with me. I can’t stop the wheel for a while and devote myself to a love affair because all sorts of business problems would pile up. The wheel has to keep turning and that makes it very hard for anyone to live with me and be happy.
“I’m driven by my work and will go on for as long as my system allows me — until I go insane. There’s a voice inside me saying, ‘Slow down Freddie, you’re going to burn yourself out’, but I just can’t stop.
“You can’t revel in the success and then, 13 years down the line, wake up one morning and say, ‘No, I don’t want to be a superstar today. I want to go out in the streets on my own, or pour my heart into a relationship’. It’s impossible. Because this is it.”
“It” is being the extrovert lead-singer with probably the most successful rock band ever. In their 13-year reign, Queen have rocked the world in a way that no other group has before or since…not ever the Beatles.
Today, Freddie and the boys — Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon — each earn over £1 million a year and need never make another record or undertake another tour. But they have no intention of stopping. Last year, Queen toured Europe and had yet another hit with Thank God It’s Christmas, and Freddie released his first solo single, Love Kills — which made the top 10 — and began work on his new single and first solo album. Earlier this year, he and the band were the star attraction for the 250,000 fans at the rock festival in Rio, Brazil.
“It was awe-inspiring and mind-boggling to be up there, with all those people in the palm of your hand.”
“But the other side of the coin is that, though I was surrounded by masses of people who love me, I must have been the loneliest person there. Can you imagine how terrible it is when you’ve got everything and you’re still desperately lonely? That is awful beyond words.
“I don’t want people to think, poor old Freddie, because I can deal with it. But I’m so powerful on stage that I seem to have created a monster. When I’m performing, I’m an extrovert, yet inside I’m a completely different man.
“Of course, the stagey streak in me, where I love to jump around and be volatile, is real, but people don’t realise there’s more. They expect me to be the same in my personal life as well. They say, ‘Come on, Freddie, perform, give us some excitement’.”
The hunky, dark-haired singer, who takes pride, in his rippling muscles and ever-changin appearance, once joked that he’d had more lovers than any Hollywood star.
“But they never last,”
says 38-year-old Freddie.
“I seem to eat people up and destroy them. There must be a destructive element in me because I do try very hard to build up relationships, but somehow I drive people away.
“They always blame the end of the love affair on me because I’m the successful one. Whoever I’m with seems to get into a battle of trying to match up to me, so all the time I’m feeling guilty and over-compensating… Then they end up treading all over me.
“I can’t win. Love is Russian roulette for me. No one loves the real me inside, they’re all in love with my fame, my stardom.
“I fall in love far too quickly and end up getting hurt all the time. I’ve got scars all over. But I can’t help myself because basically I’m a softie — I have this hard, macho shell which I project on stage but there’s a much softer side, too, which melts like butter.
“I try to hold back when I’m attracted to someone but I just can’t control love. It runs riot. All my one-night-stands are just me playing my part. What I really like is a lot of loving. And I spoil my lovers terribly. I like to make them happy and I get so much pleasure out of giving them really wonderful, expensive presents.”
Freddie has admitted that he is bisexual, but says:
“I couldn’t fall in love with a man the way I could with a girl”.
The one love of his life and the only person he really trusts is 31-year-old Mary Austin, a quiet, fair-haired woman. Freddie and Mary had a seven-year romance.
“Our love affair ended in tears but a deep bond grew out of it, and that’s something nobody can take away from us. It’s unreachable,” he says.
“All my lovers ask me why they can’t replace her, but it’s simply impossible.
“I don’t feel jealous of her lovers because, of course, she has a life to lead, and so do I. Basically, I try to make sure she’s happy with whoever she’s with and she tries to do the same for me.
“We look after each other and that’s a wonderful form of love. I might have all the problems in the world, but I have Mary and that gets me through.”
The seal of Freddie’s commitment to Mary is his decision to leave her his millions.
“What better person to leave my fortune to when I go?” he smiles.
“Of coures my parents are in my will and so are my cats, but the vast bulk of it will go to Mary.
“If I dropped down dead tomorrow, Mary’s the one person I know who could cope with my vast wealth. She works in my organisation and looks after my money side and all my possessions. She’s in charge of the chauffeurs, maids, gardeners, accountants and lawyers. All I have to do is throw my carcass around on stage.” Freddie is one of the world’s richest rock stars but he never has a penny in his pocket and has no idea of how many millions he owns.
“I love having so much money,” he admits, “but I don’t believe in counting it. And because I have far more than I need, I give a lot of it away to people I like.
“I try to enjoy life and if there was no money I wouldn’t let it stop me having a good time. In the early days, when I hardly had anything I’d save for two weeks and then blow it all in a day so that I could have a blast of fun.”
Certainly, money hasn’t always been so free for Freddie. Born Freddie Bulsara on September 5, 1946, his father was a government accountant, which meant Freddie spent some of his childhood in Zanzibar and India. After school, he did a graphics course at Ealing College of Art in London (he desinged the band’s logo, using the four members’ birth signs as inspiratsion). It was in late 1971 that he joined May, Taylor and Deacon and the Queen phenomenon began.
The biggest visible mark of Freddie’s success (and millions) must be his magnificent 28-room mansion in London’s Kensington, for which he paid over £ 1/2 million …in cash!
When Freddie bought the house four years ago, he had three of the eight bedrooms knocked into one for himself, and filled the mansion with handmade furniture from Harrods and priceless Japanese carvings and paintings from Tokyo. Outside, an army of gardeners carved out a country retreat in the grounds.
But the king of the castle still hasn’t moved in. For the first time Freddie explains why:
“Every person who makes a lot of money has a dream he wants to carry out, and I achieved that dream with this wonderful house.
“Whenever I watched Hollywood movies set in plush homes with lavish decor, I wanted that for myself and now I’ve got it. But to me it was much more important to get the damn thing than to actually go and live in it. Maybe the challenge has worn off now. I’m very much like that — once I get something I’m not that keen on it any more. I still love the house but the realy enjoyment is that I’ve achieved it.
“Sometimes, when I’m alone at night, I imagine that when I’m 50 I’ll creep into that house as my refuge and then I’ll start making it a home. Anyway, as it is, I can only spend 60 days a year in England for tax reasons.”
Freddie has spent the last few months in Munich putting the finishing touches to his first solo album, Mr. Bad Guy, which he has dedicated to his dead cat, Jerry.
The album, which is out this week, is packed with new material taking Freddie in an exciting new and different direction.
“I’ve put my heart and soul into this album,” he says.
“It’s much more beat orientated than Queen’s music and it also has some very moving ballads.”
In between hard work he also found time to begin a new friendship with a German actress — 42-year-old Barbara Valentin.
“Barbara and I have formed a bond that is stronger than anything I’ve had with a lover for the last six years,”
“I can really talk to her and be myself in a way that’s very rare.”
Among his existing close friends, Freddie counts Rod Stewart, Elton John and Michael Jackson.
“Rod, Elton and I were going to form a band called Hair, Nose and Teeth after the three of us,” he laughs.
“But it hasn’t happened because none of our egos can agree on the order of the words! Naturally I want it to be called Teeth, Nose and Hair.
“I’m very fond of Rod and Elton. They both came to my last birthday party and sang happy birthday when the cake was wheeled in. I shouted out, ‘This is probably the first time the two of you have sung without being paid for it!’ and they laughed like mad.
“Michael Jackson and I have grown apart a bit since his massive success with Thriller. He’s simply retreated into a world of his own.
“Two years ago we used to have great fun going to clubs together but now he won’t come out of his fortress. It’s very sad. He’s so worried that someone will do him in that he’s paranoid about absolutely everything.
“I get worried about that myself but I’ll never let it take over myself like that.”
Freddie has said that if he wasn’t a rock star with Queen, he’d have liked to have been a ballet dancer. He once appeared with the Royal Ballet dancing to a selection of Queen hits, and it was at a glittering Royal Ballet party that Freddie met Prince Andrew.
“I was wearing a white scarf and holding a glass of wine when I was introduced to Prince Andrew. But I was so nervous I didn’t realise my scarf was dangling in the drink,” Freddie recalls.
“There I was trying to be really cool and suddenly the Prince said, ‘Freddie, I don’t think you really want this getting wet’. He squeezed out the scarf and that broke the ice between us.
“I said, ‘Thank goodness you’ve put me at ease. Now I can use the odd bit of dirty language’. Then we both burst out laughing.
“He really got into the spirit of things and even had a dance. He’s really quite hip in those sort of situations.
“I have a lot of respect for royalty, I’m a tremendous patriot.”
Yet another unexpected side to the king of Queen. But then there’s much more to Freddie Mercury than most of us ever see. Underneath the bizarre clothes and images that have become his trademark, there is the other Freddie. He sums it up simply…”Sometimes, I just long to be perfectly ordinary as well.”