The Great Pretender: a Life in Pictures

November 24th, 1991. The world lost one of its greatest Musicians ever. The Artist, the Rock-star, inordinate Performer, the Entertainer, his voice will never be forgotten. Sometimes it feels he had never left us, because his words, his melodies and those great songs are kept forever in our hearts and lyrics are whispered around the globe every day.

Freddie Mercury has always been associated with the words “iconic”, “with no equal”, “incredible” and “one of the greatest voices in all of music”. Indeed, his colourful life, his style and ground-breaking music has inspired and keeps inspiring many great new artists, bands and singers from all the continents.

I’m a sort of chameleon. I think it’s a combination of a lot of characters. And I’m a person of extremes. When I’m on stage, I become very different. There are no half measures. You have to be resilient to be a rock star, you can’t falter once.

Sadly, despite wild popularity, millions of fans and numerous people surrounding him, there was a shy, lonely person behind the mask of a showman.

Because audiences love me, it’s hard for them to believe that somebody like Freddie Mercury could be lonely. In fact, my kind of loneliness is the hardest. I can be in a crowd and still be the loneliest person, because I don’t really belong to anyone. Over the years I have become bitter and I don’t trust anybody because they’ve let me down so many times. The more you are let down, the more you are hurt.

21 years after his death, the book with personal and several never seen photos of Freddie’s phenomenal life was published. Plentifully illustrated book celebrates one of the most influential and treasurable heroes of the British music scene. These precious photographs with discerning text gives us a little insight into Freddie’s legendary and incredible life.

Freddie on his fourth birthday in Zanzibar, wearing a prayer cap and a garland.

On his way to the Fire Temple for his birthday celebration. The family might usually have travelled by local taxi, but his mother Jer says that on this occasion she wanted her son to experience the more traditional rickshaw ride.

From the age of seven, Freddie attended St Peter’s school in Panchgani, India. He was something of a star pupil, winning a cup for ‘Best Achiever’.

Freddie studied at Ealing Art College, where his contemporaries included Peter Townshend and Ronnie Wood. It was here that he started thinking about pursuing a career in music. In his final year of college, he joined Ibex. Here he relaxes with other members of the band in Kensington.

A photoshoot for Queen done at Freddie’s flat in Holland Park.

Freddie at a photoshoot in Primrose Hill in north London in September 1974.

Freddie with his parents Jer and Bomi Bulsara on a visit to his Kensington flat.

Freddie backstage at the Rainbow Theatre, London in November 1974.

Images taken by Freddie’s bandmate Brian May using a stereo camera. I almost always carried a stereo camera with us on tour, and there are many pictures of us on-stage and off in this medium, says May. These pictures can be viewed by the ‘magic eye’ technique, relaxing the eye so the two images form one, but the best way is to use a stereo viewer. The result is a 3D image, which is very lifelike.

The Duck House on the edge of Lake Geneva in Montreux, Switzerland, became Freddie’s heaven from the attentions of the media during the latter part of his career. It was his home while he recorded his last songs with Queen at Montreux’s Mountain Studios and where he wrote his last song, ‘A Winter’s Tale’. 

Performing in red leather trousers and crepe bandages.

Performing in New York during the A Night at the Opera tour. Freddie loved the city, for a time he owned a flat there. He told friends that in New York he felt he could behave more like an ‘ordinary person’.

Performing in the UK during the A Night at the Opera tour.

At Freddie’s 39th birthday party at Mrs Henderson’s in Munich, Germany. He invited his close friends to cross-dress then filmed them for a video for his solo single, ‘Living on my own’. His record company banned the video. The full version wasn’t seen until the re-release of the track in 1993. This is one of the tamer shots of the evening.

Freddie in Munich working on his first solo album, Mr Bad Guy.

Freddie’s mother Jer Bulsara, now 89, holding the book.

I believe Freddie’s soul and energy still breathes in his songs, every time I listen to his voice – he is there, right in front of me, he is real and he always will be.  Once, he said:

I’ve lived a full life and if I’m dead tomorrow, I don’t give a damn. I really have done it all.

Indeed, he did more in 45 years than somebody in 100. I think there can be written endless articles, memoirs and countless books about Freddie Mercury, but Queen’s music just says it all. Last year, on Freddie’s birthday, a guitarist and songwriter of Queen, Brian May wrote these wonderful lines about his close friend and bandmate:

Freddie would have been 65 this year, and even though physically he is not here, his presence seems more potent than ever. Freddie made the last person at the back of the furthest stand in a stadium feel that he was connected. He gave people proof that a man could achieve his dreams—made them feel that through him they were overcoming their own shyness, and becoming the powerful figure of their ambitions. And he lived life to the full. He devoured life. He celebrated every minute. And, like a great comet, he left a luminous trail which will sparkle for many a generation to come.

Rest in peace, Freddie. We miss You. We remember You.

All images from “Freddie Mercury. The Great Pretender, A Life in Pictures”, 2012, Goodman Books.

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