Freddie Mercury. Legend, icon, genius. This excellent biography is by a music journalist who was privileged to have met him and who has had access to many people who knew him well.
Lesley-Ann Jones begins the book with an introduction in which she describes when she and some other hacks spent the night with Freddie and his crew. The first chapter is about Queen’s fantastic Live Aid set. The rest of the book follows a mainly chronological order, from the birth of Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar and his education in India, to the formation of Queen and overdue chart success, to wild parties and tangled relationships, to his death and cultural legacy. There are a generous number of black and white photographs, my favourite of which shows Freddie cuddling one of his beloved cats. A timeline, discography, bibliography and index are also included. It doesn’t get any more ‘definitive’ than this.
The book is written in a journalistic style which is generally easy to read. It’s a little repetitive at times and the author has a disconcerting way of noting, right after a quote from someone, that they died [x] number of years later of [x] cause. I’m not sure that was necessary, as there is an additional ‘in memoriam’ page at the end of the book for the people who have passed away since being interviewed.
Freddie comes across as a character of contrasts. Supremely confident on stage, but shy and passive when meeting new people. Innocent and almost child-like, yet promiscuous and passionate. Kind and polite in an old-fashioned way, but demanding too. A fascinating person, one of a kind. The book also sets his life in context: the religious background he was born into, the music industry of the time, the media, gay culture, fashion, the growing awareness of AIDS. Inevitably the content becomes very sad towards the end of the book and I was left feeling so upset that Freddie the person is gone, but grateful that his immortal legacy lives on.
First published in 2011 by Hodder & Stoughton under the title Freddie Mercury. This edition was published in 2018 under a new title, to coincide with the film Bohemian Rhapsody released the same year (but does not, as far as I know, have an official connection with the film).