September 5, 1946 – November 24, 1991
Courtesy of my pals at Popbitch August 31, 2006:
>> Happy Birthday Freddie! << Next Tuesday is Mercury Day
Freddie Mercury would have been 60 next Tuesday. Millions of odd Freddie fans will no doubt be commemorating the day, including:
* Axl Rose – who once said, “If I didn’t have Freddie Mercury’s lyrics to hold on to as a kid I don’t know where I’d be.”
* Simai Mohammed Saidi, owner of Mercury’s Bar, Zanzibar, who is organising an event in Mercury’s birthplace, but coming under fire from Islamic conservatives who say, “Allowing such a function for a person known
outside Zanzibar as a homosexual tarnishes the name of Zanzibar.”
* Barry George – convicted of killing Jill Dando – queued for days outside Westminster Abbey for Diana’s funeral, waving a sign saying “Queen of Hearts” from Barry Bulsara, Freddie’s Cousin (RIP).
* Neville Bardoli – a Freddie impersonator and self-styled number one fan.
* Jacko – who dueted with Freddie on State of Shock, but fired him for snorting gak in his bathroom and shipped in Mick Jagger instead.
* Timothy McVeigh – from his grave. McVeigh was fond of quoting Freddie, “Any way the wind blows, doesn’t really matter.”
* Iranians – since Bohemian Rhapsody and I Want To Break Free got an official release in August 2004 in Iran, Queen have been the biggest band, and first western act to be officially tolerated.
His was born “Faroukh Bulsara” in Zanzibar, and he died “Freddie Mercury,” in a six million dollar home in London. On November 24, 1991, the announcement came: “Freddie Mercury died peacefully this evening at his home at 1 Logan Place, Kensington, London.
His death was the result of pneumonia brought on by AIDS.”
Freddie was the first major rock star to die of the disease. He didn’t announce his affliction until 24 hours prior to his death, stating, “I felt it correct to keep this information private in order to protect the privacy of those around me.” During his last few months, Freddie was cared for by a few very close friends, Jim Hutton,
Joe Fanelli and Peter Freestone.
Freddie’s former girlfriend Mary Austin, with whom he remained close, showed up most days.
In fact, it was Mary who inherited the Logan Place house, and still lives there today.
Official Cause of Death: Bronchopneumonia ; AIDS.
Elton John joined the mourners who bid farewell to Freddie at his funeral.
A single red rose rested atop his coffin, which was driven to the crematory in an old black Rolls Royce with flowers on the roof. Flowers sent from all over the world, covered a quarter of an acre.
Afterward, the flowers were distributed to hospitals and hospices.
You can see the crematorium here, thanks to Findadeath.com friend Kieran. As always, thanks buddy.
No one knows for sure what became of Freddie’s ashes. He was cremated at the West London Crematorium. Some say that Mary has the urn, others think he was taken back to Zanzibar, and yet others think he was scattered over a south London cemetery. There is one unconfirmed report that his ashes were scattered over Lake Geneva, in Montreux, Switzerland. Queen did own a recording studio there, and Freddie was very fond of the place. I can tell you that Freddie’s friends believe that is entirely possible. There is a statue of him, uh, erected at the site.
The exterior wall has become a shrine to Freddie, much to the annoyance of the locals. I stopped by the house in November of 1999 – and the walls were completely sandblasted and clean. It was sorta sad actually, but I can imagine how annoying that would be, if it were my house. Still, it was nice to see it, the way it was intended.
October 2002 Findadeath.com friend Angie sends us this: From Jim Hutton’s book Mercury and Me: “Peter started changing the bed (Freddie had messed himself) while I (Jim Hutton) took care of Freddie. As I was about to change Freddie into a clean T-Shirt and a pair of boxer shorts, I asked Dave to leave the room for a few moments. It was when I was getting his shorts on that I felt him try to raise his left leg to help a little. It was the last thing he did. I looked down at him, knowing he was dead… His eyes were still open. I can remember very clearly the expression on his face and when I go to sleep at night it’s still there in front of me. He looked radiant.”
Gary B. from Duluth clarifies: “Dave” is mentioned but doesn’t say who he is. Just thought you’d like to know that it is DAVE CLARK of the 60s British band The Dave Clark Five. I’ve been involved in the DC5 fan club and I happen to know that Dave was very good friends with Freddie and he was probably the “Dave” mentioned here. I have NOT read the book “Mercury And Me” to know that it is the person the author is referring to, but according to the past president of the fan club, Dave Clark was one of those at Freddie’s “bedside” when he died.
From Peter Freestone’s book Freddie Mercury: “We were pleased and surprised that Freddie had been able to ask to help to be relieved. While Freddie was clinically bed bound, he was proud to the end that as far as he was concerned he wasn’t. In that final week we would maneuver him to the edge of the bed and then supporting him with our arms like a human zimmer-frame, we would get him to the lavatory and back. Therefore, to his own satisfaction he was not bed bound. When we got to his bedside and started to move him, we found that nature had taken its course. In the process of making him comfortable again both Jim and I noticed he wasn’t breathing. It was about quarter to seven.”
I know the accounts aren’t too different, but there are both. And his ex girlfriend (Freddie was her son’s godfather) got everything and kicked his friends out a few weeks after Freddie died. I know that things Freddie told them they would get (Being taken care of after he died and other personal items) she wouldn’t let them have. (Jim had the original pages Freddie wrote Bohemian Rhapsody on in a chest in the house). Anyways, hope that interests you!
Find a Death friend Christina R. Carlton sends us this:
“Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on September 5th 1946 in Zanzibar, to parents Bomi & Jer Bulsara. Freddie moved to India in 1947. He attended boarding school in Panchgani, just outside Bombay. Whilst there he began his piano lessons, reaching Grade 4 in practical and theory. The family, with the addition now of younger sister Kashmira, moved to England in 1963.
Freddie left Isleworth school in 1964 with three “O” levels and one “A” level in Art. He went to Ealing College of Art to study Graphic Illustration. He left college in 1969 with a Diploma in Graphic Art & Design (the equivalent of a Degree). Freddie joined his first serious band in 1969, the were called IBEX.
Freddie stood 5ft 9 inches tall with black hair and dark brown eyes. He was single and shared his large house and garden with several cats, creatures he adored. He loved opera and ballet, Marilyn Monroe was his favorite actress and Aretha Franklin just one of his many favorite singers. He liked to drink either Champagne or iced Vodka and Indian food was one of his favorites. He sadly died on November 24th 1991.”
Thanks Michael H. and Tony Nudo for photographs.
Find a Death friend Anita sends this rather lengthy report: We swept to Wembley in the back of one of a fleet of black limousines. I was on my way to see Queen perform live on stage for the very first time. We arrived at Wembley with about an hour to spare. The special enclosure was awash with the country’s greatest rock performers. I was agog.
Freddie went to get ready. Queen would be appearing after David Bowie, who was on stage now. When David Bowie came off and headed into his own trailer, Freddie whisked after him, taking me with him. David was strange. He was sitting in front of an electric fan, trying to dry his hair.
“It’s about the only fan you’ve got David, isn’t it?” quipped Freddie. They laughed. Then Freddie said: “This is Jim. I believe you’ve already met.”
David glanced up at me and looked blank: “No, I don’t know him at all.”
“Well who did your hair the other night?” I said, but I don’t think it registered. Very strange.
When it was time for Queen to go on, I walked with Freddie to the stage and, watching from the wings, witnessed the most magical 20 minutes of my life. At last I had seen the real Freddie Mercury at work, whipping 70,000 people into a frenzy. He gave everything to his performance; nothing else mattered to him. When he came off, he rushed to his trailer and I tottered behind like a puppy. His first words were: “Thank God that’s over!”
Joe ripped his wet clothes from him and dressed him. Adrenalin still overflowing, Freddie knocked back a large vodka to calm himself. Then his face lit up. The expression said: “Yes, we’ve done it!”
As we stepped out of the caravan we met a grinning Elton John. “You bastards!” he said to Freddie. “You stole the show!” Everyone backstage was converging on Freddie, Brian, Roger and John. Organiser Bob Geldof said later: “Queen were simply the best band of the day.”
When we fell into bed that night, Freddie cuddled up and whispered: “Did you enjoy it?”
“What do you think?” I answered, hugging him tight. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been to a concert.”
“You’re joking!” he said.
“No,” I added. He was dumbfounded. I fell asleep knowing that for the first time I’d actually seen the real star Freddie Mercury doing what he did best – wowing the world.
The next morning Live Aid seemed an age away to Freddie, but not to me. When I got to the Savoy on Monday morning it was still bursting out of my ears.
I was soon back in the old routine. Every two weeks I would fly to Munich and be met at the airport. The first time after Live Aid I flew to Munich to join Freddie and was whisked direct to the Musicland studio, to watch him working on material for Queen’s new album, A Kind Of Magic. In the studio Freddie had a one-track mind – work, work and more work. I watched him through the glass, but he rarely glanced my way because he was so totally absorbed. He chain-smoked or, rather, chain-lit Silk Cuts, and to boost his energy and adrenalin he slipped down slugs of vodka.
Freddie’s drive amazed me. He had to keep on the go; it was part of his life blood. When he wasn’t singing he’d bounce into the control room and sit behind the banks of sliders to tweak the playback mixes himself. He was always in total control.
By those happy days, the relationship between Freddie and me had deepened. I came to miss him when we were apart; I became upset. And Freddie felt the same way about me. Then one weekend in London he started talking about living our lives together.
“If I asked you to come and live with me in Munich, would you?” he asked. I’d never even considered moving in with Freddie until that moment.
“Yes, I will,” I said, adding, “on one condition. If I move to Germany I must have a job.” I had financial commitments in Britain, and wasn’t prepared to throw in my job at the Savoy to scour Munich for a job as a hairdresser who couldn’t even speak German. My independence was important to me, and I wasn’t prepared simply to live out of Freddie’s pocket.
Freddie let the matter drop, then, 15 minutes later, he said: “And if I decide to leave Munich and come back to London?”
“Then I would consider what I wanted to do,” I answered.
In the end, there wasn’t much time for consideration. Over a period of weeks Freddie took to phoning most nights at three or four in the morning. Eventually my landlady got so fed up with it she gave me two weeks notice. Freddie’s persistence had made me homeless. When Freddie came back to London I told him I was being evicted.
“I’m being kicked out because of your late-night calls,” I said.
“Well, don’t worry about it,” he said calmly. “Move into Garden Lodge. There’s no one there – it’s empty.” So I did.
I spent my first night in the large master bedroom alone, with Oscar snuggling up on top of the massive bed. I hung up a few shirts and my suit for work, but otherwise I didn’t unpack as I didn’t know where to put my things. Freddie returned to Britain for good the following weekend. and immediately dragged me off to bed. He said he had missed me terribly; I knew he meant it. After he had picked out wardrobes for me to use in the dressing area, he cleared all his things from one of his drawers.
“That’s for your little bits and pieces.”
So that’s how I came to move in with him. We lived together for the next six years like man and wife.
When Freddie and I were in private he could be particularly romantic. We never once broached the subject of how long we’d be together. We just accepted that we were and would be. Occasionally he’d ask me what I wanted out of life. “Contentment and to be loved,” I’d reply. It seemed like I’d found both in Freddie.
Another thing he’d often tell me, right up until the night he died, was: “I love you.” And it was never an “I love you” which just rolled off the tongue; he always meant it.
I didn’t find it so easy to show emotion. I’d lived on the London gay scene for many years and had come to realise you can get hurt very easily when relationships end. Each finished relationship builds up a new barrier and they become difficult to break down. But, in time, Freddie tore them all down.
I think we both shared a fear of the same thing – loneliness. You can have all the friends in the world around you, yet still feel agonisingly lonely, as Freddie said time and again. We were both acutely aware that many of our gay friends were haunted by the prospect of living out their lives alone, unwanted and unloved.
Friday, July 11 and Saturday July 12 were milestones in Queen’s career – two sell-out concerts at Wembley Stadium as part of their Magic! European Tour. It was the band’s first time back on the massive stage since their show-stealing Live Aid set a year earlier, and over the two nights 150,000 people would see them.
Freddie had recurring problems with nodules on his vocal cords, the price he paid for being a singer. That meant he toured with a small machine, a steam inhaler in which he firmly believed. He also sucked Strepsils throat lozenges all the time. On the first night of Wembley Freddie had some throat problems, but dismissed them as not drastic enough to stop the show. As always, I watched from all over Wembley on both nights.
The after-show party on Saturday was held at the Roof Gardens Club in Kensington and, because the press would be there, Freddie wanted Mary Austin, the company secretary of Freddie’s private business, Goose Productions, which managed all his personal affairs, on his arm. It was a rare deceit that he was not in love with me and he apologised for it.
“It’s got to be this way because of the press,” he said.
I understood, and followed a few paces behind them.
A few weeks later, I read a feature about Freddie in the Daily Express. It reported Freddie’s response to Mary’s desire to have a baby by him: he would sooner have another cat. The feature also reported that Freddie was unattached.
Freddie felt that keeping to this line made things simpler for the two of us, and he was right. However, he did say in the article: “For the first time I’ve found a contentment within myself.” He told me he was referring to our relationship.
Freddie felt Mary had long since become a public part of his life in the papers and knew she could deal with it easily enough. But he always tried to shield me from the press. He looked on fame as a double-edged sword.
After work on Friday, August 1, I flew to Barcelona to join Freddie on tour. He told me he’d been interviewed by Spanish television and declared cheekily that the main reason he was in Spain was in the hope of meeting their great opera diva, Montserrat Caballe. After the Barcelona concert we all went out to a fabulous fish restaurant. At one point I asked Roger Taylor how the tour was going.
“Well, Freddie’s different this year,” he said. “What have you done to him?”
He told me Freddie was a decidedly changed man. He’d stopped trawling the gay venues while the others went back to their hotel, and he’d stopped burning the candle at both ends. Roger’s comment spoke volumes. I took it as a reassuring nod of approval which was very much appreciated. Coming from one of Freddie’s closest friends, and one of the band, I saw it as a vote of confidence in our affair.
When the tour was over, we went on holiday to Japan. On our return, when we had cleared customs, we were ambushed from a Fleet Street reporter and photographer gleefully throwing into Freddie’s face and Aids-scare story. Under the headline “Queen Star Freddie In Aids Shock” the News Of The World had alleged that Freddie had been “secretly tested for Aids” by a Harley Street clinic under his real name Freddie Bulsara. The results had shown conclusively, according to a bogus spokesman for Freddie, that he did not have the “killer disease”. The tasteless story was a flyer – rubbish from start to finish. It even closed by claiming that Freddie and Mary were living together in Garden Lodge.
Freddie flipped. Why had no one from the Queen office in London raised the alarm and alerted him to the story?
“Do I look like I’m dying from Aids?” Freddie told the reporter. He said he had no idea what anyone had been saying and was clearly annoyed at what he called “such rubbish”.
“It makes me feel sick,” he said. “Now go away and leave me alone.”
“Do I Look Like I’m Dying From Aids? Fumes Freddie,” screamed the headline from the Sun on the next day. He was furious.
He said he hadn’t been tested, as the papers had suggested, but the story did make him very edgy. He was clearly on his guard and for the next few days he seemed preoccupied with the story. Usually Freddie ignored any press speculation, but this time the press seemed to have struck a nerve. I guess that he had doubts about his own health, as before we met he’d done more than his fair share of living the fast-lane life of a successful rock star; all sex, drugs and rock and roll, with a string of one-night stand strangers.
The day the Sun ran the story I went back to work at the Savoy, to my humdrum routine at the barber’s shop. The day didn’t go well. I learned, to my horror, that the concession had been sold. I met the new owner, but wasn’t very impressed with him and was even less so when he appointed his brash little brother as manager. Life at the Savoy began to get rocky. The new management tried to change the business from an old-fashioned gentlemen’s barber shop into a trendy cut and blow-dry place. My life at work was fast becoming unbearable, but at least I had Freddie and Garden Lodge to come home to.
For Christmas that year, Queen had agreed to release an album of live versions of many of their hits, called Live Magic. They had also agreed to take the best part of a year off to give them each a chance to recharge their batteries as well as pursue solo projects. With so much time suddenly on his hands I thought Freddie would want to go clubbing, but quite the opposite happened. Like me, he became a stay-at-home. We began to lead a very quiet life together at Garden Lodge. Most Saturday evenings Phoebe and Joe went out and left the two of us cuddled up on the sofa watching television. Some nights we’d even be in bed by 10pm, though that never meant Freddie got up any earlier the following morning.
At the end of February, Freddie flew to Barcelona with Phoebe and record producer Mike Moran to meet Montserrat Caballe for the first time – when Freddie had made his remark on Spanish television she’d been watching and had arranged to meet him. The two great singers met in a private dining room at the Ritz Hotel. Freddie said he’d had absolutely no idea what to expect except that Montserrat was prone to tantrums. She turned up late, and Freddie introduced himself by handing her a cassette and spluttering: “Here, I’ve got this for you to listen to.” On the tape was Exercises in Free Love, a song he’d written with Mike Moran. Montserrat liked the demo tracks and said she would be happy to work on an album with Freddie. He came home on cloud nine.
A week later Freddie and I were off to Covent Garden to hear a recital by Montsy, as Freddie called her. At the end of the performance, for an encore, she came on accompanied by Mike Moran. She announced she was going to sing a song “written by two great new friends of mine,” adding, “and I believe the other is in the audience tonight.”
Freddie was really surprised. His hands shot up to his eyes and he started laughing, with an expression of total astonishment on his face. The spotlights swung on Freddie, his face cupped in his hands, and the audience rose to their feet clapping wildly. So Freddie stood up and acknowledged the applause, and sank back into his chair. He listened transfixed as Montsy performed Exercises in Free Love.
Later that week, when Montsy arrived in the studio to work with Freddie, things didn’t go quite the way she expected. She thought that to record with Freddie she only had to fly in, sing a few songs from sheet music and leave, but she hadn’t reckoned on Freddie’s unique way of working. He hadn’t written out any of the music for her in advance. Instead he was going to ask her to try something, then keep reworking it until they found the exact effect he was after.
He told her: “Puccini and all these other composers are dead. I’m alive dear.”
With that, she accepted his odd way of recording. He proved a hard taskmaster. Later she admitted that in those sessions Freddie got more out of her voice than she knew she was capable of.
Before Easter I went home to Ireland to visit my family. I’m sure my family suspected I was gay, although I’d never said anything and I never mentioned I was Freddie’s lover. I stayed with my mum, who didn’t have a phone, so it meant I had to walk four miles to the nearest phone-box to ring Freddie. The day before I was due to fly back I rang Freddie at home. He asked when I’d be back, and there was an urgency in his voice which made me suspect something was wrong.
“The doctors have just taken a big lump out of me,” he replied. I asked him to tell me more, but he said he couldn’t over the phone; he’d tell me when I got home.
“Well, don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll be home tomorrow.” My immediate reaction was that Freddie was exaggerating a little. If he was feeling low, he had a habit of wounding dramatic over the phone to win extra attention from me.
Next day, when I got back to Garden Lodge, Freddie was in our bedroom. As I lay in bed with my arm around him, Freddie cuddled up close and told me what he couldn’t tell me the previous day.
He pointed to a tiny mark on his shoulder, no bigger than a thumbnail and with two tiny stitches in it. The doctors had taken a piece of his flesh for testing and the results had just come back. He had Aids.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. I couldn’t believe it: the doctors had to be wrong.
“Who did this test?” I asked. “Come on, we’ll go to somebody else.” We had to get a second opinion.
“no,” said Freddie. “These guys are the best available.”
“If you want to leave me I’ll understand,” he said.
“What?” I asked.
“If you want to leave me and move out of Garden Lodge I won’t stop you; I’ll understand,” he said.
“But I love you,” I said. “I’m not going to walk out on you now or ever. Let’s not talk about it any more.”
Freddie looked up at me and we hugged very tightly. The consequences of what he’d just told me never really sank in. It was something I was never prepared for, nor had any idea how to deal with. Instead I tried to put it out of my mind as much as possible.
In many ways I was still hoping for a miracle: a mis-diagnosis. Apart from ensuring our sex was safe from then on, I wasn’t worried about my own health for a moment. Freddie suggested several times that I had and Aids test myself, but I wouldn’t, nor would I give him a reason for my decision.
The truth was that I couldn’t see what good my having a test could do. If I was HIV positive, I thought there was a real possibility that Freddie might suffer some kind of guilt as in all probability he’d have given it to me. If the test proved negative and I was in the clear, I felt that it would be equally unfair on Freddie, like saying, “Yah boo, sucks. I’m all right jack!” The only thing that mattered was looking after Freddie and trying to keep him healthy.
That was the last time we referred directly to his illness and from that moment, if anything came up on television to do with Aids, we would turn over to another channel or switch the set off. It’s not that he was unsympathetic to others with the illness; he simply didn’t like being reminded of his own fate.
On May 4, Freddie was devastated by another story about him in the Sun. And so was I. His old friend, Paul Prenter had stitched him up. Aids Kills Freddie’s Two Lovers, it declared, and the story was run across three pages. Tony Bastin, from Brighton, and John Murphy, an airline steward, had died from the disease in 1986. And Prenter claimed that Freddie had called him late one night and poured out his fears about Aids.
The feature also named me as his lover. My immediate thoughts were of what my family back home in Ireland would make of it. I was due back for a visit, and if word was out that I was the lover of someone so famous they would certainly be disappointed to hear it third-hand from the press. It was something I’d have preferred to tell them in my own time.
We later learned that Prenter had been paid about £32,000 by the paper for his story. Freddie never spoke to him again. For the next few days there was more in the Sun, and at each episode of Prenter’s story Freddie became angrier. Prenter sold the paper several photographs of Freddie with various lovers and these were thrown over two pages under the heading All The Queen’s Men.
A few times after the Sun sell-out, Prenter rang Garden Lodge, but Freddie wouldn’t speak to him. Prenter tried to excuse his appalling behaviour by saying that the press had been hounding him for so many weeks he’d finally cracked under the pressure. Freddie didn’t want to know Prenter’s excuses; he felt unforgivably let down. The saddest thing about the Prenter episode was that it crushed Freddie’s ability to trust others, except for a select few. He made no new friends after that.
I often felt sorry for Freddie. For all he had – the money and the success – he couldn’t walk down a street or go shopping without being stared at, a pet hate of his.
Feeling bruised by Prenter and the Sun, Freddie decided that he needed to get well away from them both and we flew to Ibiza for a weeks holiday. At the end of the trip Freddie and Montserrat Caballe made a surprise appearance at the Ibiza ’92 festival to celebrate Spain’s staging of the Olympics five years later. The night was wonderfully decadent, held at the lavish Ku Club in San Antonio in front of an elite audience of about 500 people. When Freddie and Montserrat sang Barcelona in public for the very first time, you could feel the pride the song was instilling in them all. Some even shed a few tears.
Back in London, I was beginning to discover I did not have much job security at the Savoy. Things at the barber’s shop were coming to a head. I’d started telling some of my regular clients that there was a chance I would be leaving, although I had no idea where I’d go next. By mid-July I’d had enough. When I’d done my last trim of the day I phoned the owner of the shop and asked to see him, but he was too busy. “Fine,” I told him. “As of 4.30 this afternoon, I’m finished.” He didn’t ask me why, but asked whether I could work a month’s notice. I said I wouldn’t.
I rang Freddie at Garden Lodge to tell him what had happened. “All right, dear” Freddie said calmly. “You start working tomorrow for me in the garden. We’ll work your wages out when you get home.”
When I got back to Garden Lodge, Freddie was waiting for me. “Give us a cuddle,” he said. “Well done! I’m glad you’re not going to work there any more.” Then we talked about me taking over from the part-time gardeners. I told him I’d work as his gardener on one condition – that no one, not even he, could interfere in what I was doing or the way I worked. It was agreed. Not only that, I even got a wage increase; he put me on £600 a month after tax.
Freddie’s condition was soon showing physically. A few large red marks appeared on the back of his hand and on his left cheek. These were Kaposi’s Sarcoma. He got the first marks neutralised by special laser treatment, and they faded slowly. But the treatment left slight blemishes, so he wore make-up to cover them up.
It wasn’t until the autumn of 1988 on a particularly dank day, that I met for the first time Freddie’s parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara. They came to Garden Lodge to have dinner with their son. I noted a strong physical resemblance to his mother, a little lady with dark, greying hair and a lovely smile.
At the time, the mews and the garden were still a mass of foundation trenches and mounds of earth. I was in the garden and Freddie brought his mum and dad out with him when he brought me a cup of coffee. He had not told them about our affair.
“If they ask you where you sleep, tell them in the Pink Room!” he said.
A few minutes later, as he showed them around the mews, I overheard them asking who I was.
“He’s my gardener,” Freddie said.
“Where does he live?” they asked.
“He lives here, of course,” he replied.
I didn’t get to speak to Freddie’s parents that day, but I met them many times after that and we always got on well. I would drive Freddie over to their small terraced house in Feltham, Middlesex, to visit them. We’d both sit down with them for tea in the kitchen.
Mrs Bulsara always got the tea at her own pace – she never rushed around. She was very independent and still drove herself everywhere in her little car. The Bulsara home was very homely. Freddie had lived there since the family first came to Britain. (They were originally from Africa, and moved first to India before settling here in 1964.) I don’t think they kept a bedroom for him there, nor did they have any photographs of Freddie on display. Freddie had once offered to buy them a bigger house, but they said no. They were clearly very content with what they had.
Freddie’s dad was very proud of his garden. One day he took me out to look at it. He had a fabulously shaped eucalyptus tree and many beautiful old roses. When we reached the roses he said, with a hint of regret in his voice, that he was sorry the roses were reaching the end of their natural life. I wondered whether he was telling me he knew that Freddie was reaching the end of his life.
I can’t remember Freddie telling his parents that he was ill, but as time went on it was difficult to disguise from them the fact that something was terribly wrong. Freddie’s physical appearance was beginning to change and he looked thinner on each visit. Freddie’s mum knew he was very ill. I have a feeling Freddie did eventually tell them the truth, but he did not do so in front of any of us.
Freddie went to see his mum every Thursday afternoon for tea, and he rarely came away empty-handed. His mum made wonderful cheese biscuits and packed them into a little lunch-box for him. In fact, in one of the last photographs the newspapers published of Freddie he was outside Garden Lodge with a box of his mum’s cheese biscuits under his arm.
On Joe Fannelli’s birthday in 1990, he told everyone in Garden Lodge that he had some bad news. He, too, was not well.
“You mean you’re HIV?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I’ve actually got full-blown Aids.”
What can you say? I’m sorry? Nothing of any use came into my mind. It would be another blow to contend with in Garden Lodge. We were all worried about what the press would make of it if they discovered that Joe was also ill. We had visions of the sick headlines and guessed our house would be dubbed “Aids Lodge”. It all made us more determined than ever to pull together and stay optimistic.
Despite putting a brave face on things for everyone else’s benefit at Garden Lodge, privately I began to get very anxious about my own health. I thought I could be HIV positive as well. The more I reluctantly thought about it, the more it seemed likely. So I decided to have and Aids test but to tell no one. I did it in total secrecy under a pseudonym. On the excuse of going to see a friend, I slipped out of Garden Lodge for a day and traveled to Brighton.
Before the doctor would agree to take a blood sample for testing I had to undergo special counseling. The full implications of proving positive were explained to me compassionately. I told them I realised all the cons and wanted to proceed.
That night back at Garden Lodge I found it impossible to sleep. I had told the hospital that I could handle the news if it was going to be bad. But I wasn’t so sure in my own mind that I really could. What would I do?
A few days later I rang for the results.
“I’m very sorry, you’re positive,” said the doctor. But I didn’t have full-blown Aids. I was dazed. I didn’t tell Freddie. He had enough to cope with; my news could only upset him. I buried myself in work in the garden and workshop and put thoughts of my own future out of my mind. But the thought of it kept coming back to me each night as I struggled to sleep and stop my mind from racing.
Freddie’s health continued to deteriorate. He was thin and found it difficult to sleep, so I decided it was better for him if I moved to my own room permanently. Some nights I would still sleep with him, but usually I just lay next to him on top of the bedclothes. He’d snuggle up next to me for comfort. Freddie nicknamed my new bedroom the Ice Box as I slept with the window wide open, even in the middle of winter.
The move also marked the point from which almost all normal sexual relations ended between us. It was clear that sex was no longer a pleasure for him but an exhausting ordeal instead. So we settled for the next best thing: gentle kissing and heart-felt cuddles. Those cuddling sessions would be as rewarding in their way as any sex we ever had.
Freddie’s 45th birthday, on September 5, 1991, was perhaps the quietest of his life. He was very aware that he wasn’t on top form and that he could no longer disguise the fact that he was coming to the end of his life. He didn’t want a huge bash for his friends because he didn’t want them to see how sad he looked. The only thing he wanted from anyone for his last birthday was privacy.
In October the band released their single The Show Must Go On, with the B-side Keep Yourself Alive. As Freddie expected, the press weren’t slow to report its questioning, haunting lyrics. They speculated on possible hidden meanings in lyrics like “What are we living for? and “I’ll soon be turning round the corner now” at a time when he looked so frail. To me, the most autobiographical line was: “My make-up may be flaking but my smile still stays on.” That was true. No matter how ill Freddie felt, he never grumbled to anyone or sought sympathy of any kind. It was his battle, no one else’s, and he always wore a brave face against the ever-increasing odds against him.
The last video Freddie made was for the single These Are The Days Of Our Lives. (It was released, shortly after his death, on the flip-side of Bohemian Rhapsody.) It seemed a very apt swansong. When Freddie was making the video he looked worse than I had ever seen him. Now the thick make-up he used to disguise the markings on his face only seemed to highlight his gaunt features. The security at the studio was very tight and only the essential technicians were there.
We spent a last holiday in Switzerland, when I finally came to accept that Freddie wasn’t going to live much longer. We were in the last few days before the end. One day Freddie and I were watching an old Thirties’ movie. The heroine asked her partner: “Will we spend the rest of our lives together?” Freddie looked at me and asked the same thing.
Coming back from Switzerland, Freddie was in good spirits. We’d arranged for him to be sped through customs. In his final few weeks he’d refer to it proudly. “Even Liz Taylor doesn’t get away with that, dear!” he’d say.
Of course, Freddie was given special permission to avid the queues at customs and passport control because he was so ill. He tired easily and looked terrible, and it would have been cruel to allow him to attract the attentions of the crowd. None of us were allowed to accompany Freddie and for a while he was split from the rest of us, dependent on total strangers for the first time in years. We tried protesting, but it was no use. We still had to go through immigration like everyone else while poor frail Freddie was left in the Customs Hall to wait for us.
Back at Garden Lodge, Freddie set out on the last three weeks of his life. He remained in good spirits, though he took to his bed for long parts of the day. He didn’t once talk about work. Some days he’d get up in the morning and come down in his dressing gown for a cup of tea before returning to his room for the rest of the day. And I’d take him a cup of tea, along with his beloved cats for company.
We kept ourselves sane by doing jobs around the house and still pretending that everything was normal. I got round to putting fairly lights in the second magnolia tree by the corner of the house, but who cared so long as it made Freddie a little happier. I waited until Freddie and I were along in the bedroom before showing him the lights.
“You haven’t passed any remark about the tree,” I said.
He walked to the window and his face lit up when he saw the tree twinkling.
“Oh, you’ve done it,” he said and hugged me.
Before, he would have responded differently, perhaps snapping sarcastically:
“Why has it taken you so long?” But now he no longer had the strength.
I found solace in working in the garden. I lived for the enjoyment he could get from looking at me and the garden from his window. Right up to the very last day I worked on the garden. Even on the Sunday he died, I mowed the lawn.
I abandoned a planned trip to Ireland as time was so clearly running out for Freddie. In the second week Freddie came off most of his medication except painkillers. It was a decision he took against the advice of his doctors.
Much of the time Freddie slept or watched television. Joe or Phoebe stayed with him through the day, relieved for short breaks by Mary or his old friend Dave Clark. Dave came every day, and we appreciated his help immensely.
Although I was busy working in the garden where he could see me, Freddie needed to hear from me more and more that I loved him. So I got into the habit of flying upstairs and quickly sticking my head around the door.
“Hey,” I’d say, “I love you!”
Then I’d run back down to get on with the gardening. I knew it made him feel good for a few minutes at least. Sometimes when I got downstairs again I’d look up at his window and he’d be there waiting for me to emerge outside; then he’d blow me a kiss.
I spent the evenings alone with Freddie. We would talk or watch television, or I would doze alongside him. He’d rest his frail head in the cradle of my arm and I’d gently massage his scalp.
Joe, Phoebe and I also started taking turns to stay with Freddie through the night, usually lying awake next to him on constant stand-by. We had an intercom system installed so we could summon one another, and pagers so we could be reached instantly. We wanted to be with him at the end.
In the last 10 days before Freddie died, the press set up camp outside Garden Lodge. In the early morning one or two would arrive, followed by more as the day went on. After an hour or so there’d be six or seven dozen. Freddie was obviously aware that the press were waiting outside, since you could often hear them from the bedroom. But he never knew to what extent they were there. He thought that at any one time there were no more than a handful and none of us ever corrected him. It wouldn’t have helped.
Contrary to some newspaper reports at the time, Freddie’s bedroom never became a “mini-hospital”. He had a drip-stand at his right-hand side, in case he needed a blood transfusion, but everything else in the room was exactly as it had always been. In the last few days Freddie stopped eating solid foods; he just ate fruit and drank fruit juices.
Mary could say some clumsy things, but perhaps she said them without thinking. One day she suggested that we should ask Freddie to take off the wedding ring that I’d given to him, as when her mother had died her fingers had swollen badly.
“The ring stays on, Mary,” I said.
Later, when I was alone with Freddie, I mentioned the idea of slipping the ring off in case his finger should swell up.
“No, he said. “I’m keeping it on.” It never came off; he was even cremated with it on.
The morning of Thursday, November 21, was a very sad day for me. It was the last time Freddie appeared at his bedroom window calling “cooee”, and I knew that the end was very near.
That night I took special care of him. He dozed and I lay next to him on top of the bed. He only had to elbow me gently and I’d be awake if he wanted anything.
When dawn broke I was already wide awake, quietly watching television. Freddie was still asleep, cuddled inside my arm and holding on to my hand. Every so often he’d softly squeeze it. “Do you love me?” he’d asked when he woke. More than ever he wanted to hear how much he was treasured. “Yes, I love you,” I whispered and kissed him on the forehead.
At about 6.30 Freddie needed to go to the loo and I walked alongside to steady him. He sat down to have a pee and I leaned against his shoulder to support him. “You’re in the way!” he grumbled, and elbowed me painfully.
“If I move away from here you’re going to fall over,” I insisted, I got him back to bed where he sat quietly. The rest of that morning he seemed alert and well aware of what was going on. A meeting with his management triggered a flurry of activity to do with Freddie’s statement to the press that he was suffering from Aids. I’ve always been doubtful that Freddie made that statement of his own accord. He’d kept it all quiet for so long it seemed odd that he’d suddenly want to start confessing things as if he had something to be ashamed of. I’m sure he felt his fate should not become a matter for public debate. It was only a matter for him and his immediate friends. And I’m sure he didn’t want to risk Joe and me being subjected to the publicity. I did not even know that Freddie was going to issue a statement. But I do know that Freddie specifically requested that the statement was released worldwide to prevent the British gutter press from having a scoop to themselves. It was Freddie’s way of saying to those so eagerly awaiting his death: “Fuck the lot of you!”
Freddie dozed through much of the next day, and in the evening I went up to see him. We were lying together on the bed when he asked me what time it was.
“It’s eight o’clock,” I said.
“Soon the whole world will know,” he sighed looking at me with sad, brown eyes. This was the first indication I had that something was going on.
When Freddie nodded off I went downstairs and mentioned what he’d said to Joe. He confirmed that a statement explaining his condition had been prepared. It was due to be released at midnight.
I wasn’t supposed to be keeping watch over Freddie through Saturday night – Joe was. But he’d gone out to the gym, then out for a drink, and didn’t reappear. I was with Freddie in his room at around 10pm when he got terribly agitated. He kept asking me where Joe had got to.
“Why, what’s the problem?” I asked.
“Well, I have to take my medicine.”
“Oh, that’s not a problem,” I answered. “I can give you the pills you want. Which ones are they?” He knew exactly which three or four pills he needed – the painkillers. He had been taking AZT, but had abandoned it along with the rest.
Freddie and I chatted away all night. I don’t remember what we wittered to each other about, even when Freddie was well. It was all happy inconsequential stuff. We didn’t watch television any more. We just lay on the bed cuddling until he dozed off. And sometimes so did I.
Occasionally he gave me a quick jab in the ribs to stop me snoring, or a harder one if he needed something. Then he asked me to prepare some fruit for him in the kitchen. I sliced some mango and added a little sorbet to help fight his chronic dehydration.
We drifted asleep again. When Freddie next woke me it was about three and he seemed incapable of explaining himself. He couldn’t talk properly and kept pointing to his mouth frowning. Something was terribly wrong. I tried to work out what he wanted, but couldn’t. About half an hour later Joe came back home and saw I was having problems. As soon as Freddie spotted Joe, he pointed to his mouth.
Joe leaned over Freddie and opened his mouth. A piece of mango had lodged at the back of his throat which he could neither swallow nor bring back up. Joe prised Freddie’s jaw open wide and flicked out the offending piece of fruit with his finger. Freddie didn’t say anything. Joe and I were fully aware that a healthy Freddie would have been furious with me for not understanding. He sipped some juice, then went back to sleep.
Freddie woke up again at six in the morning and uttered what were to be his last two words: “Pee, Pee.” He wanted to be helped to the loo. He looked terribly weak and I had to carry him. As I lowered him back on to the bed I heard a deafening crack. It sounded like one of Freddie’s bones breaking, cracking like the branch of a tree. He screamed out in pain and went into a convulsion.
I yelled for Joe. I needed him to pin Freddie to the bed to stop him injuring himself. Over the years, Joe had seen Freddie have one anxiety attack after another and he knew just how to handle him – by pinning him down until the anxiety had passed. He said: “Freddie, calm down.” Then Freddie’s hand shot up and went straight for Joe’s throat. He was like a drowning man clutching for air.
Joe freed himself from Freddie’s grip and eventually he calmed him down. Then, exhausted by the strain, Freddie promptly fell asleep. We phoned Dr Atkinson, and he came over and gave Freddie an injection of morphine to help him through the day. Joe later told me Freddie was allergic to morphine, but it was now so late in the day it didn’t seem to matter.
Mary came by later in the morning and we all stood around in the kitchen, waiting to hear Dr Atkinson’s prognosis. He said: “Freddie will probably last until Thursday.”
Joe and I looked at each other. We both knew that there was no way Freddie could last that long.
Mary left shortly after that. The rest of that day Freddie nodded in and out of sleep. I felt the need to get well away from Garden Lodge, so that afternoon I took myself off to Holland Park where I moped around for an hour.
By the time I got back, Freddie was as ill as I’d ever seen him. He seemed to know what was going on around him, but couldn’t respond to any of it; he could hear, but couldn’t move his eyes to acknowledge he’d heard. He just stared straight ahead, eyes glazed.
Dr Atkinson stayed at the house all afternoon and left just after 6.30pm. I thanked him for having stayed so long, saw him out, and then went straight back to be with Freddie. Freddie made clear he wanted to go to the loo. After the terrible convulsions which had followed his morning visit to the bathroom, I wasn’t bold enough to try to cope with him again single-handed. I flew downstairs and found Phoebe.
By the time we got back upstairs, Freddie had wet the bed.
Phoebe looked over at me and asked:
“Shall we change the bedclothes?”
“We’d better,” I answered, “If we don’t and he wakes up he’ll go absolutely apeshit.” I don’t know why I said that; perhaps it was my subconscious trying to make out that things were less serious than they were.
Phoebe started changing the bed while I took care of Freddie. As I was changing Freddie into a clean T-shirt and pair of boxer shorts, I felt him try to raise his left leg to help a little. It was the last thing he did. I looked down at him, knowing he was dead.
“Phoebe,” I cried. “I’m sorry, he’s gone.”
I slipped my arm under Freddie’s neck, kissed him and then held him. His eyes were still open. I can remember the expression on his face – and when I go to sleep every night it’s still there in front of me. He looked radiant.
One minute he was a boy with a gaunt, sad little face and the next he was a picture of ecstasy. Freddie’s whole face went back to everything it had been before. He looked finally and totally at peace. Seeing him like that made me happy in my sadness. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. I knew that he was no longer in pain.
I stopped the tiny fly-wheel of the wind-up carriage clock by the bed. I’d given it to Freddie because he told me he’d always wanted one. It read 12 minutes past seven. I’ve never started it again.