On 20 April 1992, Queen were finally ready to give Freddie his rock 'n' roll send-off - with a concert which would subsequently be voted the greatest live rock event of the 1990s. Brian May, who described Freddie's death as 'like losing a brother', stressed that the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium on Easter Monday that year 'is not Queen', although most of those who took part would perform Queen songs. On the day of the concert's announcement, 72,000 tickets sold out within 2 hours, even though no line-up had yet been agreed. The event would be broadcast on radio and TV to 76 countries and filmed for a documentary by David Mallet.
The dazzling show kicked off with live footage of Freddie doing vocal scales. Annie Lennox and David Bowie sang 'Under Pressure', Roger Daltrey 'I Want It All'. Extreme did 'Hammer To Fall', George Michael and Lisa Stansfield duetted on 'These Are the Days Of Our Lives', and Elton John tackled 'Bohemian Rhapsody' with Axl Rose. Seal chose 'Who Wants To Live Forever'. Mick Ronson and Ian Hunter, of Mott the Hoople veered from the rules, to offer a moving tribute with Bowie's 'All the Young Dudes'. So did Robert Plant, with the Led Zeppelin number 'Thank You' – although he also sang 'Innuendo' and 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love'. But it was Liza Minnelli who blew them all off the stage, brilliantly, with 'Who Wants To Live Forever'. The concert marked John Deacon's penultimate live performance as part of Queen.
Yet where were Dave Clark, Tony Hadley, Elaine Paige? Where was the 'out' gay element - Boy George, Holly Johnson, Jimmy Somerville, Leee John - to celebrate that aspect of Freddie's lifestyle? Where were Pavarotti, Carreras, Domingo, to deliver the classical arias Freddie adored? Above all, where was Montserrat? Not even the late Hollywood legend and AIDS campaigner Dame Elizabeth Taylor, in her tearful address, could compensate for the absence of La Stupenda.
George Michael, who stole the show with 'Somebody To Love', echoing the band's Live Aid triumph 7 years earlier, revealed that he was 'living out a childhood fantasy'.
'When I think of Freddie, I think of everything he gave me in terms of craft', George said.
'Just to sing those songs, especially 'Somebody To Love', was really an outrageous feeling. It was probably the proudest moment of my career'.
'George Michael at the tribute concert was amazing', enthused Peter Paterno.
'It did cross my mind, and I'm sure a lot of other people's minds, that they really should consider having him take Freddie's place. In the end though, I guess, no one ever could'.
Spike Edney, who contributed keyboards with Mike Moran, was saddened by the post-concert fall-out.
'It may not be fair to say that none of those great artists could sing any of the songs as well as Freddie', he reasons.
'But I know a lot of them felt as if they were there in his shadow. Of course, he would have loved that. It would have tickled him to see them all suffer. As well as appreciating it for what it was – a great tribute – he would have relished the agonies they all had to go through, not managing to match his keys!'
The experience was summed up, relates Spike, by the scene at the after-show party at Brown's nightclub.
'Upstairs, I saw Roger propped up against the wall, just staring into space. Then I spotted Brian a couple of feet away, doing the same thing. I went over to them. 'How do you feel?' I said. 'Can't feel anything', one of them replied. Nobody could remember anything about it. You just couldn't take it all in. Once it was over, it was 'God – what have we done for the past month? And what do we do now?'
Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography
Hodder & Stoughton (c) 2012
Mercury: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster USA (c) 2012