Freddie Mercury was one of the greatest vocalists of all time – with his amazing four-octave range and spellbinding stage presence, the Queen frontman was a legend in his own lifetime.
Even today, 28 years after his death, his records are best-sellers and his legend lives on.
The prolific singer and songwriter lived in the public gaze and once he became a global superstar, he didn’t have a private life as such. Before he became famous, however, he lived a very ordinary life, selling second-hand clothes on Kensington Market.
It was during this period that he met the woman who was to become the love of his life. When Freddie Mercury met Mary Austin, in 1969, he had recently graduated from Ealing Art College with a diploma, while she was working in a London fashion boutique.
Before they met
Born in Zanzibar in 1946, Freddie attended a boys’ boarding school in Panchgani from the age of eight, but he and his family fled to the UK in 1964 to escape the revolution, settling in Middlesex.
After graduation, Freddie moved to London and joined various bands, but he had to work on a second-hand clothes stall to make a living, as he didn’t have any commercial success musically at that point.
Mary came from a very different background. She was born in 1951 in London’s Battersea district. Her family wasn’t rich – her father was a wallpaper trimmer and her mother a domestic help. Both her parents were hearing impaired.
How they met
Freddie and Mary met through a shared love of fashion when he was 24 and she was 19. She was working in the trendy London fashion store, Biba, when she first met Freddie.
At first, she was a little hesitant about him, due to his somewhat larger-than-life personality, but she soon fell for him and they began living as a couple in a small flat, while Freddie tried to further his music career. It was a year before he met the other members of Queen.
Later, Mary described him as “like no one I had ever met before”. He was full of confidence, while Mary had always been the opposite. She described how they “grew together”.
Freddie became the lead singer of a band called Smile in April 1970. The existing members included Roger Taylor on drums and guitarist Brian May.
Freddie changed the band’s name to Queen, as he wanted it to sound “regal”. He also designed the band’s famous crest logo in time for the release of their first album, Queen, in 1973. John Deacon joined on bass guitar and the legend of Queen began.
They went on to become one of the most successful bands in history. Freddie was a mesmerising vocalist, with his effortless four-octave range combining with his flamboyant stage persona and exotic costumes to captivate the fans.
In his personal life, Freddie surprised Mary by proposing to her in 1973, after they had moved to a new, bigger flat in Holland Road, London. Mary later said the marriage proposal was unexpected.
She was 23 years old and after four years as a couple, Freddie gave her a big box on Christmas Day. Inside was a series of boxes, gradually decreasing in size. Mary said it was like a “playful game” and she had no idea that a beautiful jade engagement ring was in the final smallest box.
Mary didn’t realise, at first, it was an engagement ring because the proposal was so unexpected, so Freddie placed the ring on her left hand. She accepted the proposal and they were officially engaged.
Queen rose quite rapidly to success after Trident Studios released their first album, called Queen, in 1973. Everything they touched turned to gold – or platinum, in the case of their most famous albums, Sheer Heart Attack in 1974 and A Night at the Opera the following year.
Their most famous singles included the legendary Bohemian Rhapsody in 1975, which achieved four-times platinum status in the UK. Somebody to Love in 1976 and We Are the Champions in 1977 further cemented their place as the top rock band of the 1970s.
As Queen’s success snowballed, his relationship with Mary began to falter. Although he was said to have written the ballad, Love of My Life, for Mary in 1975, their relationship was going downhill and getting married was no longer being discussed. They had been together for six years by this time and Mary knew something was wrong.
She told him she was starting to feel like “something was going on” and that it was time for her to go. The star said everything was okay, but she sensed the relationship cooling, at the same time as the band was achieving new heights of success.
Mary thought Freddie was having an affair, as he began coming home later and later every night. In 1976, Mary said Freddie finally discussed his feelings with her. He told her he was bisexual – a revelation that ended their physical relationship. Mary moved out into her own flat, which Freddie bought through his music publishing company.
Although their relationship as a couple had ended, she remained the star’s closest friend. There are plenty of photographs of them together, backstage at concerts, as Mary still went on the road with the band.
Biographers have described this as an interesting stage of their relationship. Despite having lived together for years as a couple and Freddie having proposed marriage, they remained good friends for the rest of his life. She witnessed his life of lavish excesses, as he lived like a rock god.
Despite having two sons herself with painter Piers Cameron, they never married and her close friendship with Freddie continued. Freddie was godfather to her oldest son, Richard.
In an interview, after he and Mary split up, Freddie said his subsequent lovers would ask him why they couldn’t replace Mary. He said this was “simply impossible”. He described Mary as “the only friend I’ve got,” and insisted he didn’t want anyone else.
He said he and Mary had believed in each other and that he could never fall in love with anyone in the same way he had fallen for her. He had looked upon her as his common-law wife, admitting, “To me, it was a marriage.”
Mary went on to work for Freddie’s management company and remained constant in his life in the years leading up to his death, after he was diagnosed with HIV in 1987. He died on 24th November 1991 with Mary, the love of his life, by his side.
Freddie made sure she was well looked after, leaving her his house (where she still lives today and a share of his music publishing company. Biographers said it was as if he was leaving it to his widow. She had been there for him before he had any money, and fittingly she was still there at the end. Mary said she thought of his passing as losing her “eternal love”.
Freddie had worked with his band mates May, Deacon and Taylor for many years and they had their ups and downs, but remained friends until the end. Following Freddie’s death, May described him as being “in it for the music” and denied he was the “diva” that the press liked to portray.
May described Freddie as the peacemaker if there were ever arguments in the band. He always worked hard to make sure his own personality and stage presence didn’t overshadow his bandmates. May said the members of Queen always considered each other as “family”.
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