THE NAMING OF FREDDIE MERCURY : A COINCIDENCE?


There are various theories as to how Farrokh Bulsara came to restyle himself as Freddie Mercury. Several of them are explained in my book 'Bohemian Rhapsody: The Definitive Biography'. One that escaped me was outlined to me last night by Larry Andre, the American Ambassador to Djibouti. With his kind permission, I reproduce his email here:


"Greetings from Djibouti. I greatly enjoyed your biography of Freddie Mercury. I spent a lot of time on Zanzibar’s main island between 2008 and 2010. My circle of Zanzibari and long-time expat friends there attributed the choice of “Mercury” as a stage name to the existence of a Mercury Space Program tracking station just outside Stone Town during the period after Freddie returned to Zanzibar from India and prior to the family’s departure following the Zanzibar uprising/revolution. I researched to confirm, and found that there was indeed a Mercury Space Program tracking station on Zanzibar at that time. My friends tell me that Zanzibari families frequented the site to enjoy its extensive, well-kept lawns. In the end, who really knows for sure? But this seems a worthy theory.


Cheers,
Larry André
U.S. Ambassador, Djibouti


I travelled to Zanzibar twice to research my two biographies of Freddie, during 1996 and 2010. Despite the fact that the country had reluctantly conceded to acknowledge the existence of its most famous son, a decade into the 21st Century, no mention was ever made of the American Mercury Space Program. I learned of its existence only yesterday. Further research informs me that the American Satellite Tracking Station was built in 1960 for the earliest 'Project Mercury' launches, when astronauts were projected into space in a parabolic arc from Florida to East Africa. It was subsequently used to track/communicate with America's first manned space missions. It became a thing among teenage Zanzibaris to gather on the beach at night, lie on the sand gazing up at the stars and await the passing overhead of the American spaceship. Teenaged Freddie was back from his boarding school in Panchgani, India by then. He spoke often about how much he enjoyed hanging with his friends at the beach. It does not seem so far-fetched an idea to imagine him as one of those stargazers.


After the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964, when Freddie's family fled to the UK, the new Zanzibari government feared attack, and claimed that the station's telemetry towers could be used to guide missiles towards the island. The station was shut down, and its personnel and their families were evacuated.


Incredibly, parts of that disused station still stand. Locals refer to them 'the Americani buildings'. The Butler-Aluminum Maintenance Building still houses the station's huge diesel generator. The location is apparently hard to find. If you're heading that way, point your hire car east out of Stone Town for about 15km, stop just outside Tunguu village, squint into the undergrowth and keep your eyeballs peeled. You might just find yourself looking at Freddie Mercury's true inspiration. Was it a coincidence that he found himself forming a band with an astrophysicist? Is there such a thing as coincidence?





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