The late gay singer, songwriter and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury is one of the great rock icons of the modern era – thanks to his remarkable voice and unique stage presence. On the eve of what would be his 65th birthday the world is rediscovering Mercury’s talent and using his name to help others.

Not many realise that Mercury was one of our own and was African-born. He came into the world on the 5th of September 1946 with the name Farrokh Bulsara on the East African island of Zanzibar, then a British protectorate, to parents of Indian origin.

Mercury grew up both in Zanzibar and India, starting piano lessons at the age of seven and forming his first band at the age of 12. He and his parents fled Zanzibar when he was 17 due to the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution and moved to Middlesex, England.

The young Mercury studied Art and Graphic Design at Ealing Art College (he later went to design the Queen logo, which combines the zodiac signs of all four members).

After starting a number of failed bands, in 1970 he joined guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor in their band Smile. In 1971, the final member, bass guitarist John Deacon, came onboard. It was Mercury who pushed them to change the band’s name to Queen, which they admit they had reservations about.

“I thought up the name Queen. It’s just a name, but it’s very regal obviously, and it sounds splendid,” Mercury once explained. “It’s a strong name, very universal and immediate. It had a lot of visual potential and was open to all sorts of interpretations. I was certainly aware of gay connotations, but that was just one facet of it.”

At around the same time, Farrokh Bulsara legally changed his surname to Mercury and forever became known as Freddie Mercury.

It was Queen’s fourth album, 1975’s A Night at the Opera, that catapulted them to international stardom with its megahit Bohemian Rhapsody, which remains the third-best-selling single of all time in the UK.

The band ended up releasing a total of 18 number one albums, 18 number one singles, and 10 number one DVDs, and have sold between 150 million and 300 million albums.

When Queen released its first Greatest Hits album, ten of the seventeen songs had been written by Mercury – including the eternally memorable Bohemian Rhapsody, Killer Queen, Somebody to Love, We Are the Champions, Bicycle Race, Don’t Stop Me Now and Crazy Little Thing Called Love.


While Mercury is today seen as one of global gay community’s most famous members, the singer was not entirely comfortable with defining his sexuality – perhaps a reflection of the times. Some believe that he was more accurately bisexual.

At times Mercury was open about his sexuality, saying for example “I am as gay as a daffodil, my dear”, but he also denied being gay, once saying that it was simply a phase in his youth: “It’s a thing schoolboys go through.” Despite being flamboyant on stage and in music videos the thought of him being gay never seemed to occur to most of his legions of fans around the world.

In 1992, John Marshall wrote in the Gay Times: “[Mercury] was a ‘scene-queen’, not afraid to publicly express his gayness but unwilling to analyse or justify his ‘lifestyle’ … It was as if Freddie Mercury was saying to the world, “I am what I am. So what?” And that in itself for some was a statement.”

In addition to having numerous male lovers, Mercury had significant relationships with two women. The first was Mary Austin, with whom he remained close friends for life, despite them breaking up over his affair with a man. He often described Austin as his best friend and wrote a number of songs about her.

He was also involved with actress Barbara Valentin before having his longest relationship with a man, hairdresser Jim Hutton. The two men lived together for the last six years of Mercury’s life and Hutton nursed him during his illness. Despite this, Mercury was often not comfortable being seen in public with his partner.

In the face of ongoing speculation and his increasingly gaunt appearance, Mercury denied being HIV positive for years, but on 23 November 1991 he released a final statement on the issue:

“Following the enormous conjecture in the press over the last two weeks, I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV positive and have AIDS. I felt it correct to keep this information private to date to protect the privacy of those around me. However, the time has come now for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth and I hope that everyone will join with me, my doctors, and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease.

Just 24 hours later, on 24 November, Mercury died at the age of 45 at his London home with Hutton at his bedside. The official cause of death was bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS.


To celebrate Freddie Mercury’s 65th birthday, family, friends, guests and celebrities from the world over will come together on September 5th 2011 to raise funds for HIV and AIDS causes. In South Africa, funds raised will go towards Nkosi’s Haven.

‘Freddie For A Day’ launched last year through the global Queen fan base. Started by a handful of fans who decided it would be fun to dress as Freddie for a day and coerce sponsorship from family and friends for doing so, donating whatever they would raise, no one could have imagined the extraordinary response which followed. Fans from 24 countries around the world – from Argentina to Ukraine, jumped on the idea.

Some sent pictures strutting their stuff at home, singing into a microphone in their bedrooms. Others took the full plunge and spent the whole day as Freddie, including one US fan who dressed herself as Slightly Mad Freddie and then spent her day at Columbus Zoo in Ohio with a penguin and a gorilla. Another took a trip from France to Switzerland – her entire journey dressed in a harlequin leotard.

But it seems it is not only die-hard fans who have taken to the idea. In recent months a host of celebrities have been name-checking Freddie and even dressing like him. Katie Price donned Freddie’s I Want To Break Free over-the-top drag outfit for Comic Relief recently – complete with the body hair. Katy Perry wore Freddie’s trademark white slacks and yellow leather jacket for her 24th birthday celebrations.

By the time we reach September 5th we can expect to see even more celebrities paying tribute to Freddie in their own unique way.

To play your part, make sure to dress like Freddie Mercury on Monday September 5th to show your support. Put your pictures on Facebook, share the campaign with your friend and – most importantly – SMS “Freddie” to 38010 to donate R10 to Nkosi’s Haven


Universal Music South Africa are releasing re-mastered versions of Queen’s entire album collection and they’ve given us a hamper of 10 Queen re-mastered CDs to pass on to one lucky winner.

To stand in line to win, answer this question: Where was Freddie Mercury born? Africa, India or the UK.

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