From Queen Archives: Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, John Deacon, Interviews, Articles, Reviews
Interviews > Freddie Mercury Interviews > 03-12-1974 - NME
by Julie Webb
It was clear for all to see that Queen's Freddie Mercury wasn't in the best of health. His hair lacked the recent attention of heated curling tongs; a cold sore was erupting above his upper lip; and horror - seems he'd not been able to summon enough strength to apply Biba black nail polish to more than one hand.
Mercury was worried as the camera lens zoomed in on him. He beseeched us to "touch up the picture to remove the cold sore if you can."
I know it sounds like we're setting the guy up, but he takes it all in good heart. Why, last time we met he stated he was "gay as a daffodil" - and here he was, willingly holding a daffodil in hand, outside Buckingham Palace. He posed regally, shirt temporarily coming unhitched from his trousers, revealing a hairy chest.
The British tour sapped most of the Mercury energy. Bedridden with laryngitis when it finished, he had just a few free days to repair any mental or physical damage before Queen joined Mott The Hoople on their two-month tour of America.
He is, in short pretty knackered - and if the American tour seems to be happening too soon after Britain, there's no way he can change things.
I'd like a couple of weeks off, but you've got to push yourself. But we're at a stage in our careers, my dear, where it's just got to be done. I shall be resting on my laurels soon…"
He stops, considers the last remark and realises he may have said the wrong thing. Hurriedly he comes in with, "To put it another way, I shall try and reap my profits. I've worked my ass off these past few months. I've worked till I've dropped and after a while you physically can't do it."
Didn't he think the British tour was a bit too busy, what with so many gigs included. "Yes it was a heavy tour, but it put us in a different bracket overnight. It's a tour we had to do and I think now we've done it we can do the next British tour on our own terms, exactly how we like.
"With this tour we were booked in well beforehand at semi-big venues and, by the time we came to doing them, we had the album out, we'd got a bit of TV exposure and everything escalated. I think if we'd waited we could have done all the big venues - it's just a matter of timing. But I'm glad we did the tour when we did. Even though there was a lot of physical and mental strain - so many things to worry about other than the music."
A situation not improved by the fact that all members of Queen are, according to Mercury, "very highly strung". Add to that his admitted bad temper. "I'm very emotional. Whereas before, I was given time to make my decisions, now nearly all of us are so highly strung we just snap. We always argue but I think it's a healthy sign because we get to the root of the matter and squeeze the best out. But lately so much is happening, it's escalating so fast that everybody wants to know almost instantly, and I certainly get very temperamental."
"You've got to know where to draw the line. But the public always come first - it's a corny thing to say but I mean it. Lately I've been throwing things around which is very unlike me. I threw a glass at someone the other day. I think I'm going to go mad in a few years time; I'm going to be one of those insane musicians."
It's at this point that I begin to wonder about Mercury. On stage he lords it around like some old slag. Offstage, he's vain, camp - yet a nice enough dude.
He just has an unfortunate way with him during interviews, coming out with quotes and stories that are bound to be misconstrued or lay him wide open to mickey-taking. This could well account for some of the unkind press the band have received.
"I think, to an extent, we are a sitting target because we gained popularity quicker than most bands and we've been talked about more than any other band in the last month, so it's inevitable. Briefly, I'd be the first one to accept fair criticism. I think it would be wrong if all we got were good reviews - but it's when you get unfair, dishonest reviews where people haven't done their homework that I get annoyed." Unlike many British bands, they've waited until the time was right and are appearing on the same bill as Mott, who will assuredly pull in large crowds.
So the present and the future seem well assured I enquire about the past - like, what kind of family background does a guy like Mercury have?
"Middle-class. Musicians aren't social rejects any more. If you mean; Have I got upper class parents who put a lot of money into me? Was I spoilt? - no. My parents were very strict. I wasn't the only one, I've got a sister, I was at boarding school for nine years so I didn't see my parents that often. That background helped me a lot because it taught me to fend for myself."
Boarding school… if we are to believe stories that circulate about boarding schools - brutish behaviour, homosexual goings-on - well, the mind positively boggles in Freddie Mercury's case.
I broach the subject…
"it's stupid to say there is no such thing in boarding schools. All the things they say about them are more or less true. All the bullying and everything else. I've had the odd schoolmaster chasing me. It didn't shock me because somehow boarding schools… you're not confronted by it, you are just slowly aware of it. It's going through life."
So was he the pretty boy who everyone wanted to lay?
"Funnily enough, yes. Anybody goes through that. I was considered the arch poof."
So how about being bent?
"You're a crafty cow. Let's put it this way, there were times when I was young and green. It's a thing schoolboys go through. I've had my share of schoolboy pranks. I'm not going to elaborate further."
Oh dear. And just when we were doing so well.