Wednesday, 5 September 2018

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY



It's hard to believe that today would have been Freddie Mercury's seventy-second birthday. He feels as alive to me today as he did thirty years ago. Forever young, vibrant and full of it. I remember him as a tangle of contradictions. So shy at his own parties, he'd emerge from the bedroom only when the guests were all in place and when the bash seemed in full swing. He'd go round filling everyone's glass with champagne himself, so that he 'had an excuse to talk to them'. In the wings before a gig, he looked small and terrified. He was never a star away from the spotlight. He put on the stardom like an overcoat, and took it off again at the end of the show. I was never unamazed by the way he seemed to treble in size out on stage.
I've told it once or twice before, the way he shared his deepest secrets with me. We were in Montreux, at the White Horse Tavern. Freddie was with the French boys. He knew me. I'd watched from the side of the stage as Queen performed at Wembley for Live Aid in 1985. I'd seen them perform around the world by then. The band invited me for the ride to a string of destinations on the 'It's a Kind of Magic' tour in 1986. In Budapest, I attended Queen's reception at the British Embassy. I witnessed their historic show behind the Iron Curtain, one of their greatest live moments ever.
Freddie opened the conversation that night. He bought the next round. It wasn't nothing: he didn't trust the press, having been turned over by hacks in the past. But this was his bar, his stomping ground. He could be himself there.
'I can breathe here,' he said, dragging on a borrowed Marlboro Red.
'I can think and write and record, and go for a walk. I think I'm going to need it, these next few years.'
Without spelling it out, he was admitting that he was dying. He knew by then that he was infected with HIV. Not long afterwards, I discovered who was responsible. I never wrote it. I know precisely where his remains lie. I've never written that, either.
There was a time when journalism was perceived as a venerable profession. That impression fell off the side during the 1980s, when celebrity-bashing became an Olympic sport. Nevertheless, most of us who pursued the print dream did in fact respect the lines. Where they were drawn. How to resist the urge to step over them, keeping an eye on the bigger picture and the notion of some eventual prize. Reverse psychology. Ju-Jitsu technique. We often kidded ourselves.
Privacy was in those days a thing. The first thing that celebrities sacrificed. The last thing they realised they wanted back. Too late, too late. Freddie knew. He squinted into his vodka, swishing the glass.
'It's exactly the thing that keeps me awake at night,' he said. 'I've created a monster. I can't blame anyone else. It's what I've worked for since I was a kid. I would have killed for this. Whatever happens to me is all my fault. It's what I wanted. It's what we all strive for. Success, fame, money, sex, drugs - whatever you want. I can have it. But now I'm beginning to see that, as much as I created it, I want to escape from it. I'm starting to worry that I can't control it, as much as it controls me.'
No one could be more excited than I about the imminent Queen feature film, starring Rami Malek as Freddie and Lucy Boynon as Freddie's girlfriend Mary Austin. I worked as a script consultant to Peter Morgan, who wrote the original version of the screenplay. Now, in honour of the picture, Hodder & Stoughton are publishing a new edition of my book 'Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography'. Entitled 'Bohemian Rhapsody' to sync with the movie, it'll be here on 18th October. Thank you, Freddie. Happy birthday, wherever you are. See you sometime.


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