Authors: Laura Jackson
Laura Jackson is a bestselling rock and film biographer who has interviewed many of the world’s leading celebrities. For twenty
years she has tracked the lives of the stars and gained access to their inner circles to produce a series of critically acclaimed
biographies. To find out more, visit
Laura’s books include:
Brian Jones: The Untold Life and
Mysterious Death of a Rock Legend
Steven Tyler: The Biography
Brian May: The Definitive Biography
Jon Bon Jovi: The Biography
Kiefer Sutherland: The Biography
The Eagles: Flying High
Neil Diamond: The Biography
Bono: The Biography
Queen: The Definitive Biography
Paul Simon: The Definitive Biography
Sean Bean: The Biography
Published by Hachette Digital
ISBN: 978 0 7481 2907 2
Copyright © 2011 by Laura Jackson
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DY
This book is dedicated to my remarkable husband, David
Grateful appreciation to everyone whom I interviewed for this book, for their honesty in talking openly of the Freddie Mercury
they each remember. My thanks for all contributions go to: Michael Appleton; Simon Bates; Mike Bersin; Tony Blackman; John
Boylan; Tony Brainsby; Sir Richard Branson; Pete Brown; Michael Buerk; Lady Chryssie Cobbold; Derek Deane; Bruce Dickinson;
Wayne Eagling; Spike Edney; Joe Elliott; Elizabeth Emanuel; David Essex; Fish; Dudley Fishburn; Scott Gorham; Mike Grose;
Jo Gurnett; Bob Harris; Geoff Higgins; Mandla Langa; Gary Langhan; Malcolm McLaren; Barry Mitchell; Mike Moran; Chris O’Donnell;
Tony Pike; Andy Powell; Donald Quinlan; Dr Ken Reay; Zandra Rhodes; Sir Tim Rice; Sir Cliff Richard; Pino Sagliocco; Tim Staffell;
Peter Stringfellow; Dick Taylor; Ken Testi; Barbara Valentin; Terry Yeadon; Susannah York; Paul Young.
Also thanks to: BBC Radio; BBC TV; British Library, Gail Imlach and Elgin Library staff; Secretary to Governor of Maharashtra;
Lady Olivier; Alistair, David and Andrew of Moray Business and Computer Centre, Elgin; Elizabeth Taylor.
Special thanks to David for his eternal support and to Zoe Goodkin and all at Piatkus and the Little, Brown Book Group.
Freddie Mercury is one of rock music’s greatest legends. As Queen’s unique front man he had captivating stage presence and
his public persona was polished, proud and unparalleled in its fantastic egotism. His character was extreme. By turns, he
could be funny and cruel and his frequent use of cocaine heightened his tendency to excess and fuelled his rampant sexual
appetites. Mercury was unable to be faithful to those homosexual relationships that were important to him, while remaining
constant in his love for Mary Austin whom he had known before fame swept him up into the stratosphere. His reckless gay lifestyle
– sometimes sinking into the sordid realms of rough street trade – led to his tragic death from Aids, aged forty-five, in
1991. Not since the murder of John Lennon had a rock star’s demise made such an impact worldwide.
On the flipside of the coin, Mercury was also a cultured, intelligent and well-read man with a wide knowledge of the arts.
A terrific raconteur, he was the master of risqué repartee and capable of extending great kindness, loyalty and generosity
to a small, select group of friends. He showed incredible strength and heartbreaking courage as he faced his traumatic illness
and death. No surprise, then, that such a paradoxical, larger-than-life character should attract attention from film makers
and when news broke that a big-screen biopic of
Freddie Mercury was due to go into production in 2011, with Sacha Baron Cohen in the lead role, it ignited intense excitement
and anticipation among Queen’s legions of devoted fans.
When once asked how he would like to be remembered, the irrepressible singer had tossed back with a flick of his wrist, ‘Oh,
I don’t know. When I’m dead, who cares? I don’t.’ The truth is, to be immortalised on the silver screen in a major movie would,
to Freddie, be no more than his just desserts. But behind the flippancy and flamboyance, who was the
Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara, on 5 September 1946 at the Government Hospital on the spice island of Zanzibar in
the Indian Ocean. He was the pride and joy of Jer and Bomi Bulsara, who doted on their first child. Of Persian descent, his
father Bomi was cashier at the British Colonial Office. When he finished work each day, in the early afternoon, the family
would go to the beach to teach their son to swim or for a walk in the city’s exotic gardens.
This idyllic way of life, however, began to disintegrate in 1951, when he was enrolled at the island’s missionary school,
run by strict British nuns. Months later, after having spent six years as an only child, a baby sister, Kashmira, arrived,
and Freddie was no longer the focus of attention at home. As he was struggling to adapt to this new state of affairs, his
father’s reappointment to India heralded a major upheaval for the family when they were required to leave Zanzibar for Bombay.
The sudden change suited the Bulsaras. Bomi and Jer were devout Parsees – the modern descendants of ancient Zoro-astrianism
– and although the faith was once dominant in Persian Iran before its Muslim conquest, since the seventeenth century Parsees
have largely concentrated in and around Bombay. In addition to the security of being among
their own people, Mercury’s parents believed this was the best place to provide their son with a good education. Furthermore,
although the family lived comfortably in a substantial house staffed with servants, there was now some unpredictability about
Bomi Bulsara’s job, and it was thought best to send their eldest child, just seven years old, to boarding school.
St Peter’s School was a type of British public school in Panchgani, Maharashtra. It upheld all the traditional academic teachings
with an emphasis on sports such as cricket, boxing and table tennis. Mercury quickly discovered that he loathed cricket, but
for a while he enjoyed boxing. Although he would later claim to have been brilliant at the sport, he wasn’t really in his
natural element. His whippet-like frame was better suited to the speed and dexterity of table tennis, a sport at which he
later became school champion; equally he excelled in athletics.
Around the age of eight, Mercury began taking piano lessons at St Peter’s. When his mother had taught him, he had practised
his scales out of dutiful obedience. Now with professional tuition, he began to flourish, and the more his aptitude became
apparent, the more he grew to enjoy playing the piano. He also looked forward to his trips home. His school friends had long
since rechristened him Freddie – no longer Farrokh – and his family had adopted the name, too.
Religion was to play an important role in his early life. Parsees worship at fire temples, where sacred flames burn continually
– some for over 2000 years – and before which prayers are said to pledge allegiance. Like other Parsee children, Mercury attended
these temples, and, as was the custom, his formal induction occurred when he was eight in a Navjote ceremony conducted by
a Magi priest. It was a ceremony steeped in the oldest tradition, and one that Mercury as a child engaged in with all the
As India’s commercial and financial centre, Bombay boasted a huge urban population, and the city’s vitality thrilled Mercury.
Whenever he could, he pitched himself into its chaos. He adored all its aspects, from the glamour of the Malabar Hill district,
overlooking the Arabian Sea, through the plush Victoria Gardens on Parel Road, to the bedlam of Bombay harbour, watching merchant
ships put out to sea. He would wander the labyrinth of narrow streets lined with bazaars, where snake charmers sat cross-legged
on the ground, piping eerily hypnotic tunes, and fakirs spread themselves on beds of nails. This exotic culture of Bombay
conspired with its breathtaking architecture in a sense of grandeur, colour and flamboyance that began to inspire Mercury’s
As a young boy, Mercury was irresistibly drawn to these hectic marketplaces. Haggling with wily Arab street traders, with
only a few rupees in his pocket, he had an eye for what he wanted and learnt to barter effectively. Years later, as a millionaire
he would shop in the world’s choicest establishments until those around him dropped from fatigue. Paying huge sums of money
for collectable antiques and art treasures, he derived almost as much pleasure in the getting, as in the possessing.
In tune with its polyglot population, the music of Bombay was a kaleidoscope of genres, practically all strains of which were
influential to Mercury’s early development. His parents were cultured and preferred classical music and opera, which he himself
would enjoy in later life. But the predominant local influences were rooted in the mystical rhythms of Indian music, and by
the mid to late 1950s a trace of the new popular music craze, rock ’n’ roll, seeped into Bombay.
Soon to attain Grade IV on the piano, in both theory and practical, Mercury was by this time mad about music. He had formed
his own band, the Hectics, appropriately named to
reflect Mercury’s powerhouse of energy. He was enthusiastic about singing and desperate to perform publicly, something his
school’s archaic rules would not allow. Nevertheless, he already sang in the school choir and regularly participated in amateur
dramatic productions. When he played these early gigs at school fetes and parties, the combination of his choirboy training
and overblown sense of theatrics was obvious in the originality of his performances.
Although it was a tough regime, in many ways Mercury liked boarding-school life. The downside was that he didn’t see much
of his family – a fact, according to those who knew him well, he later grew to dwell on. During his adult years in Munich
he would often visit the home of record producer Reinholdt Mack, where he saw a loving rapport between Mack and his children.
Mack has maintained that he once overheard Mercury privately tell his son how much he had missed out on the homely side of
life because of the amount of time he was separated from his parents. Publicly Mercury would only admit, ‘One thing boarding
schools teach you is how to fend for yourself, and I did that from a very early age. It taught me to be independent and not
to have to rely on anybody else.’
But despite this bravado, he was often very lonely. Because his father frequently travelled, at times Mercury had to spend
school holidays with relatives; on occasions he even stayed at school when the other pupils had all gone home. This meant
that during his formative years there wasn’t as much opportunity as he would have liked to develop the best bond, right then,
with his family. Hiding his feelings about this, he gradually built a protective shell around himself. As he grew older, this
strengthened to the extent that if he wanted to, he could completely shut something out, effectively banishing it from his
This insular attitude was not the only reason Freddie never
mentioned an important development that had taken place in his life by the time he had entered his teens. For what would turn
out to be his last couple of years at St Peter’s, two extracurricular activities, both synonymous with English public school
life, were to preoccupy him: bullying and homosexuality.