by Eric Andrews-Katz -
SGN A&E Writer
'QUEEN: IT'S A KINDA MAGIC!'
FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
PANTAGES THEATER - TACOMA
Freddie Mercury is perhaps one of the most diverse, and prolific singers of the 20th Century. The consummate showman, Mr. Mercury's music swept the range from Country to Pop and everything in between. As leading man for the group Queen, they gave us the Rock-n-Roll anthem, 'We Are the Champions,' and the eternal mega-hit, 'Bohemian Rhapsody' - a song that is listed as the 'United Kingdom's third bestselling single of all time.' Coming to Tacoma's Pantages Theater on September 26 is the acclaimed tribute to Freddie Mercury and his band, 'Queen - It's A Kinda Magic.' At the helm of the show is Peter Freestone, a man who had the distinguished honor of being Freddie Mercury's personal assistant, and very good friend.
Eric Andrews-Katz: How did you first meet Freddie Mercury?
Peter Freestone: I met Freddie back in October 1979. I was working at the Royal Opera House in London doing costumes. He was invited to be a special guest star at a charity gala, and he sang the first public performance of 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love.' He also sang 'Bohemian Rhapsody' while being paraded about the stage. I met him at a party afterwards and told him I thought his work was wonderful. He said, 'I've seen you around' and we started talking about my work. Two weeks later, his management called me to ask if I was available to do a 6-week tour with Queen, looking after the stage costumes and such. I said yes.
Andrews-Katz: How did Freddie's nickname for you 'Phoebe' get started?
Freestone: In Great Britain it's a theatrical tradition to give men female names. It's just the way it was. So between Freddie and Elton John, they named everyone. Freddie was Molina, for Molina Mercury. A celebrity always gave a name. There were no celebrity Freestones, so Freddie did a thing with Phoebe for Freestone and I became Phoebe Freestone.
Andrews-Katz: What was your position in Freddie Mercury's life?
Freestone: It started off as a six-nine week job looking after the costumes on tour. Freddie decided he would NOT be going back to Britain for a year or so, and decided to spend the time out of the UK. He asked if I would go with him because he didn't want to be alone. He wanted to have someone who knew how to look after him. I became Freddie Mercury's personal assistant.
Andrews-Katz: What would you say was Freddie's (the performer's) greatest attribute?
Freestone: Thoughtfulness. He always thought before he did something. He would think about the results of any of his actions.
Andrews-Katz: What were some of the performer's demons?
Freestone: Every night on stage, there was one part of the show that terrified him; that was the end of 'Bohemian Rhapsody.' Towards the end there is that very exposed run going up the piano. He dreaded that because he was terrified of getting it wrong. He thought that if he slipped up, people would think (since he wrote the song) that he couldn't even play his own music in public.
Andrews-Katz: How different was the persona of Freddie Mercury from the original born man named Farrakh Balsara?
Freestone: While there was one Freddie Mercury, there were two sides to him. There was the stage persona and the public person who was larger than life. That person could control a stadium of people with his voice. The whole world looked up to him. Then there was this other shy person who couldn't walk into a room of strangers on his own.
Andrews-Katz: Being such an incredible performer, how did Freddie prepare for his concerts? Did he have any traditions or superstitions?
Freestone: Not really. We always had to have on hand, hot water, lemon and honey. I would make a big mug of it and squeeze lemons into it. Then I'd send it up to him. He thrived on it. He wouldn't go on (practically) without having some first. Whether it actually did some sort of physical comfort or if it was a security blanket kind of thing, I don't know. It's good for the coating of the vocal cords and warming up, but there was no real warming up process. Half and hour before the show, the guys would be in the dressing room getting ready. The Sound Engineer would come in and Freddie would try out his voice, to see how high it would go, and what kind of space he was in at the moment.
Andrews-Katz: There is contradictory information on if Freddie was open about his sexuality. Was he open about being Gay or did he keep it personal?
Freestone: He never really hid it, but he never paraded it on his sleeve. Everybody who met him would know that he was Gay, by the way he was, the way he behaved, his flippant attitude&that sort of thing. He never hid it. In that day and age you didn't go around shouting it either. Rumors are the easiest things to start, and he didn't want it to reflect to the band. He went to bars every single night. Every single night! Whatever the country, and whatever city he was in, he went to the local gay bars. But nobody sought him out there. There were no real paparazzi. He didn't use a disguise like dark glasses, he went as himself.
Andrews-Katz: After his press release, announcing his being HIV positive, on November 23, 1991 what was the general public's reaction?
Freestone: To be 100% correct, the release was sent out at 8 PM on November 22, 1991. People assumed it was released the next day because that was when they read it. I don't think the released statement really had time to sink into the public's mental state before the headlines that read, 'Freddie Mercury is Dead' (November 24, 1991). What happened was that he decided to stop taking the drugs that were to keep him alive on November 10th. He took only painkillers at that point and that was it. He stopped eating and drinking, so the last week of his life he was never alone. Someone was with him 24 hours a day. He spent 10 days thinking about the statement and how to word it. His manager spent time with Freddie, and they came up with the statement. Once it was done, Freddie knew he didn't have to struggle on anymore. I think the statement gave him some peace. And while I spent the night with him on that Friday (November 22), he just seemed so much more relaxed. He didn't talk much, and I just held his hand so he could go to sleep and wake up with the knowledge that someone was there. I didn't see him on that Saturday, but Jim Hutton and John Deacon said he was very quiet. It was about 5 AM on Sunday morning (November 24) when he went into a coma.
Andrews-Katz: When recording the final album Innuendo, Freddie could barely walk. His recording of 'The Show Must Go On' (recorded in one take) is considered one of his best vocals. How did he find his strength to do it at that point in his illness?
Freestone: Freddie Mercury was kept alive by music. The doctors told us in October 1989 that Freddie would probably not see Christmas that year. When he heard that news, he stopped drinking, smoking and all drugs (except the medications that were keeping him alive). He spent the last two years making music. All his life was about music. Just because he was dying, he wasn't going to let it stop him. I think it gave him something to grasp on to.
Andrews-Katz: What made you finally decide to write 'Freddie Mercury: An Intimate Memoir'?
Freestone: It wasn't originally supposed to be written. I thought I was doing OK with Freddie Mercury's death and then some real friends told me that I was looking at the world through an empty glass. Therapy was suggested. To me therapy is something you pay a lot of money for, to talk to someone you don't know, who really knows absolutely nothing about what you want to talk about. So I thought, 'OK, I understand the talking part,' and I started talking to David Evans (who also knew Freddie) and he wrote down everything I said. Every time I would finish, he would print it out so I could read it. I was basically laundering the book. After two years of this, he turned to me and said, 'You've written over 100,000 words here and many fans are still asking questions about Freddie. We can make this into some sort of coffee table book' and that's what we did. We self-printed 1000 copies and they disappeared in three weeks. The editor of Omnibus Press took one of them and they pleaded with us to reprint it. It's proven to be one of their best selling books. Of course with me, not being a published author, I got about one penny per copy. But the thing is, the way I look at it, the readers can find out things they want to know and get their answers, without ringing me up.
Andrews-Katz: How would Freddie Mercury have responded to his music being put into a musical stage production like 'We Will Rock You'?
Freestone: If people would want to see it, he'd be happy that they were seeing it. If he was alive, I don't know if that particular show would exist. You can't fight the fact that millions of people have seen it. But the thing is, the music is being heard by new generations. Freddie would have been amazed that new generations would want to listen to his music.
Andrews-Katz: What can you tell us about the show, 'Queen: It's a Kind of Magic'?
Freestone: The title says it all. The show was conceived about 10 years ago, and the producer decided (after a good run) he wanted to rest it. Then during his travels, he discovered Giles Taylor, and thought he'd be the perfect Freddie. They asked if I could find a director who could bring the show back with new life, and new sound, and new costumes& We found the director and worked with him for 2-3 weeks. I think they formed a great show. It's got many of the hits. We use so many different costumes, they are able to bring so many songs to life, and it makes for a wonderful show.
Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara in the British Protectorate of the Sultanate of Zanzibar, East Africa (now part of Tanzania) of Parsi parents from India on September 5, 1946. Mercury spent most of his childhood at school in India. He began taking piano lessons at age 7 and formed his first band (The Hectics) at age 12. In 1963 he moved back to Zanzibar, East Africa where he joined his parents. At the age of 17, he and his family fled from Zanzibar for their safety to escape the Zanzibar Revolution (1964) and moved to Feltham, Middlesex, England. Queen was formed when he first met Brian May (guitarist) and Roger Taylor (drummer) in April 1970. Mercury wrote 10 of the 17 'Greatest Hits' including 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'We Are the Champions,' and 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love.'
Tickets for the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts presentation of 'Queen: It's A Kinda Magic!' at the Pantages Theater (901 Broadway, Tacoma) are available at www.broadwaycenter.org or 253-591-5894.
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