THOSE WERE THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES: FREDDIE MERCURY
It was interesting to realise, while talking to presenters Aasmah Mir and Stig Abell live on Times Radio this morning, how fresh 23rd November 1991 remains in my mind.
No longer a journalist on the Daily Mail, I was secured to Nick Gordon's YOU Magazine on a rolling contract, and was at that point based in LA. So I was not one of the hated hacks camping outside Freddie's famous green door, keeping the poor man a prisoner in his own home.
I had long followed his life, however. I'd been on the road with Queen in various parts of the world, was at Live Aid with them in 1985, and had interviewed them collectively and individually many times. I would write and publish four books about Freddie, the latest of which has recently been published in paperback.
Freddie was not, as has often been claimed, in denial of the fact that he was dying. He embraced it. He hosted his final dinner party on 5th September that year, his 45th birthday. His cake, a replica of La Tourelle, his Montreux apartment building, was baked by Jane Asher. In the days and weeks beyond, he picked up painting and drawing again. His boyfriend Jim Hutton went out and bought him a watercolour set and some brushes, and Freddie attempted to paint a portrait of Delilah, his favourite cat. He couldn't manage it. Enraged by the cost of some Matisse abstracts in a catalogue - 'Ten grand each!' he exclaimed. 'I could do better than that!' - he dashed off a couple of his own, and gave them away. That was it. He was going blind. He put his paints and brushes aside. He stopped taking all medication soon afterwards, with the exception of painkillers.
Every morning, when Peter Freestone or Joe Fanelli drew his curtains, there were the paparazzi lingering en masse in the mews below. There was nothing that could be done about it, except what Freddie did do - which was to let go.
His parents kept wanting to visit. He had Peter put them off. He had 'seen them', he said. He wanted to be remembered as he had been, and not as a frail, expiring slip of a thing. Dave Clark looked in frequently, as did Elton and Tony King. Gordon Atkinson, his GP, was in most days, as was former girlfriend Mary Austin - despite the fact that she was 7 months' pregnant. His sister Kashmira came with her husband and 2 kids. Brian May and Anita. Roger and his then partner Debbie Leng. Freddie's driver Terry Giddings rocked up every day, even though Freddie wasn't going anywhere.
He was a sorry state by then. His body was riddled with Kaposi's sarcoma. He had a Hickman line planted in his chest, for the administering of drugs. On 23rd November, Queen manager Jim Beach arrived. Together, they drew up a statement to be released immediately by publicist Roxy Meade, admitting to the world that Freddie had AIDS.
He died the next day. 'How did he know that he was going to die the next day?' people said. He couldn't have done. Though maybe he did. It is not for us to know, is it. Speculation is almost always pointless.
All we can do is play the songs. 'Those Were the Days of Our Lives' seems appropriate today. As does 'Innuendo' - the opener of the album of the same name and the first single from it, which debuted at number 1 in January 1991. Their first number 1 for 10 years. A grown-up 'Bohemian Rhapsody', I call it. Miss you, Freddie.