A real emotional rollercoaster without a dull moment. I have read many biographies and autobiographies in the past. They all have a bit you skim through at some point when the details get too long and arduous to read. Not this! It was very easy to read and full of quotations from friends, family, music industry bigwigs and even psychiatrists.
"It was the perfect stage for Freddie Mercury: the whole world." Bob Geldof
"It wasn't even dark, he was whipping up all this magic in daylight." Dave Hogan (photographer at Live Aid)
The explosive start with Live Aid in Chapter One mirrors the movie Bohemian Rhapsody to a tee (although the book predates, obviously). Although the main focus is how Queen outperformed everyone that day, there is also a lot of other information like when and how Bob Geldof came up with the whole idea (I did not know that Queens had not been invited to sing in Do They Know It's Christmas!)
The book then delves deeply into Freddie's childhood and time in Zanzibar and India. The writer even goes on an expedition to find his birth certificate (which is apparently missing - suspected to have been bought illegally and in someone's private collection now). Her interviews with friends and family shed so much light on Freddie's background and upbringing. (He was called Bucky!)
The next thing that struck me were the many differences with the movie - too many to name! How he met and joined the band, how they got their first album recorded, the truth is so different I was wondering if I had watched an adaptation or fictionalisation of the truth at the cinema the day before reading the book (For example, they had a VERY hard time being picked up by radio DJs in the UK and could not get onto playlists at the beginning). However, I felt that his relationship with Mary Austin came across better on screen (although, again, there were many conflicts like, she did not abandon him as portrayed in BR) And the wild parties that are described in the book... Oh my God! Jaw dropping! I can understand why those were left out of the movie! What I can't understand is why they portrayed Brian, Roger and John as near saints who'd say 'This is not out thing', when in reality the debauched, depraved orgies were part and parcel of life on the road and the after-parties that were thrown at the end of each tour?!
I also learned about Peter Freeman, Barbara Valentin and others who were so close to him but did not get a mention in the movie. And Jim Hutton - the true story of how they met is so different! (again the movie went for the soppy, sentimental take which never actually happened)
The book has a total of 25 chapters that take the reader from place to place and event to event. Freddie's multi-faceted, almost chameleon-like character came out very well in the story. You follow him as he goes from sleeping on the floor to super rockstardom. You feel each betrayal, each hurdle he had to overcome. There are moments when you are cheering him on and moments you find the hedonistic OTT life too much to comprehend. There is also a lot of commentary into what the songs and lyrics mean - for example, the writer's own take on Bo Rap is that Scaramouche (a sad clown from the commedia dell'arte) was Freddie himself, Galileo the 16th century astronomer is obviously Brian May, and Beelzebub (prince of demons) is Roger Taylor who was the wildest party animal at the beginning. I don't know how much water that holds, to be honest, but back stories to why and how the songs came about are definitely interesting.
And the final chapters - I was in tears. There was so much empathy and emotion in the description of his final year, death, funeral and the aftermath. The wealth of information also leads me to some fantastic old videos (like Freddie's performance with the Royal Ballet) that are hidden away on Youtube.
Here are some of the tidbits that have stayed with me...Did you know - Brian May developed gangrene in his arm after a routine inoculation and there was a real fear of amputation?
that Freddie was aerophobic?
that after their first appearance of Top of the Pops in 1974 Freddie ran along Oxford St to watch their appearance on a TV in a shop window because he didn't own one himself?
that Freddie and Roger ran a market stall in Kensington and were as thick as thieves? (I thought their relationship on BR was actually quite strained)
that when they landed in Argentina for the tour in 1981 the flight announcements all stopped and they started playing Queen music in the airport instead!
There was one comment in earlier reviews that this is a mash-up of all the interviews and books that have come before, with no new material. I disagree. Yes, there were a lot of quotes from various sources, but there were also many insights from the author herself and personal interviews/conversations too. Of course, I have not read all the other biographies of Freddie and Queen out there, but I am sure there is a lot of overlapping bound to happen when you write about the same subject!
My only criticism is because the chapters were broken by personalities and events there was a lot of jumping back and forth in the timeline when you read from one chapter to another - where you stop and go 'wasn't that mentioned earlier?' However, if you are a fan of Queen, or if you have just watched Bohemian Rhapsody, this is a book which would fascinate you. A note of caution though - you may also take a second look at what everyone is hailing as a fantastic movie, and have second thoughts...
"I suddenly realised that I was shaking and nervous. Why? The aura. He had it... Whatever it is, I believe you are born with it. You never lose it. You can't work on it. It is magical..."
"In his final filmed interview in 1987, Freddie admitted that the song The Great Pretender, more than any other summed up his career...'Oh yes, I'm the Great Pretender / Pretending that I'm doing well/ My need is such / I pretend too much / I'm lonely but no one can tell."