Fur coat and crown from the estate of Mercury
Photo: Wiktor Szymanowicz / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images
The London auction house Sotheby's is strikingly decorated these days. A huge moustache adorns the entrance to the building on New Bond Street – larger than life like one of the most famous moustache wearers in pop history. Inside, the exhibition "Freddie Mercury – A World Of His Own" gives the first glimpse into the fascinating home of the Queen singer, who died in 1991. We show the public Freddie and the private Freddie," says Sotheby's board member Franka Haiderer.
In front of a wall of silver and gold records are the crown and crimson cloak that Mercury wore on the 1986 Magic Tour, his last concert tour with Queen. On 1600 square meters of exhibition space, a walk through his private home, the so-called Garden Lodge in the London borough of Kensington, follows. Mercury's furniture, art collection, countless keepsakes, extravagant wardrobe and handwritten notes that will be auctioned off are on display at Sotheby's until September 5.
The highlight is the baby grand piano, on which the legendary frontman composed world hits such as »Bohemian Rhapsody«. The estimated value for the instrument is the equivalent of up to 3.5 million euros. Mercury had bought the Yamaha G2 Baby Grand Piano in 1975, when he was still living in a small London apartment with his long-time partner Mary Austin, who remained his confidante even after the separation.
Worried Austin might mind, the singer allegedly had the grand piano delivered when she was not at home. In the same year, Queen topped the British charts for the first time with the single »Bohemian Rhapsody« and the album »A Night At The Opera«.
By a hair's breadth »Mongolian Rhapsody«
Queen's biggest hit was originally called something else. This is shown by handwritten notes that Mercury had scribbled on a notepad of the defunct airline British Midlands. "Mongolian Rhapsody" is written on the first draft, with "Mongolian" crossed out. We didn't know that before," says Gabriel Heaton, who is one of Sotheby's specialists in rock 'n' roll.
"Freddie kept drafts for almost everything he wrote in the seventies," says Heaton. This documents the creation of classics such as »Killer Queen«, »Don't Stop Me Now« or »Somebody To Love«. The design of »Bohemian Rhapsody« alone is expected to fetch more than one million euros at the auction.
The numerous outfits are also fascinating: a sequined one-piece that Mercury wore on the "News Of The World" tour in 1978, the leather vest from the music video for "Radio Ga Ga" or a jacket in military look that he wore at the celebration of his 39th birthday. Scenes from the costume party at the Munich nightclub »Old Mrs. Henderson« can be seen in the video for the single »Living On My Own«. The bill of the evening with a list of all drinks – including around 300 bottles of Roederer champagne – will also be auctioned.
"He was a rock star after all," says Franka Haiderer, a member of the Sotheby's board, with a smile. However, the more than 1400 items on display still show a side of Mercury that was largely hidden from the public until now. "He was an educated person with an affinity for art," says Haiderer. "He had great taste, a love of art, a love of detail, a huge love for Japan."
The entertainer had set up a Japan room in the Garden Lodge, which only close confidants were allowed to enter. From several trips to the country, he brought back countless souvenirs and many kimonos. Paintings and art prints, pieces of furniture, crockery and other utensils – not only from Japan – testify to a strong passion for beautiful and precious things. "When it comes to money, I'm a hopeless case," Mercury is quoted as saying in the book accompanying the exhibition. »I just spend what I have.«
The singer had bequeathed his property and house to Mary Austin. After his death in 1991, everything remained hidden behind the walls of the Garden Lodge for more than 30 years. "For many years I had the privilege of living among all the wonderful things that Freddie collected and loved so much," writes the 72-year-old Austin. Now, however, she wants to close this "special chapter of my life".
The Queen singer was passionate about auctions. In fact, he had once bought some items that are now being auctioned at Sotheby's himself. Looking at the exhibition and the auction, Mary Austin is therefore certain: "Freddie would have loved it."