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:: Spotlight :: Interview with Peter Freestone - Freddie Mercury's personal assistant

By: Joseph Crofts

What must it be like to be a personal assistant to someone who is recognisable the whole world over? To be able to accept that you always had to put someone else first. Someone that unlike in a romantic relationship didn’t always return that favour. To know that everywhere you went together the other person would receive one hundred percent of the attention one hundred percent of the time.

Peter Freestone knows what it’s like. For twelve years he lived with and worked for the enigmatic Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen and pop/rock music god. He, like all good PAs, knew what his friend and employer needed just by observing an arch of his eyebrow, or by hearing an intonation in his voice.

Peter and I meet in the café of Her Majesty’s theatre on a sunny Friday morning. He enters delivering a world-weary smile and complains about some long-ago personal drama that has reared its head whilst he’s been in Australia. He’s visiting from Prague, where he’s been living since losing touch with England four years ago, and is in Melbourne to promote Queen - 'It’s A Kinda Magic', which is coming here in June and is a musical tribute to the band that Freestone says is the best he’s seen.

During our conversation I am immediately struck by his droll English cynicism, and I imagine he and Freddie cracking themselves up over dinner in the kitchen at Garden Lodge, the palatial Edwardian mansion Mercury owned in London’s exclusive South Kensington. “Freddie loved that house but he was so terrible at domestic duties. Once he woke me in the middle of the night when he was entertaining a few friends, and said ‘I want to make a cup of tea for everyone but I don’t know how to use the microwave’ and I said why do you need the microwave then?”

Freestone is full of such anecdotes about ‘Freddie’ and his love for him is obvious. It is this love that perhaps allowed him to be so egoless in serving his employer so well for so long, indeed not until Mercury’s death in 1991 did they part.

Both were raised and schooled in separate Indian boarding schools and it was this that Freestone believes fostered the independence and individual strength that both of them shared and that allowed them to become so close. “When you’re raised away from your family you learn to become more emotionally dependent on your friends….When Queen were so big and we were living in Garden Lodge we lost contact with our blood relatives, our friends became our family and Freddie was like the mother hen.”

The two met when Freestone was working as a wardrobe assistant at London’s Royal Opera House and Freddie was there as a guest performer. “After the show we exchanged pleasantries for several minutes and two weeks later I was on tour with Queen as their wardrobe technician. Eighteen months later I was promoted to Freddie’s personal assistant.”

It’s clear that despite Mercury’s death from AIDS fourteen years ago Peter is still working for him, but it’s not a one way street. “He’s still helping me out as well” he says. “You know it wasn’t because he was famous that he made such a huge impression on me. He had this unexplainable magnetism, and he was older, (Freddie was 33 when they met, Peter, 24) wiser and knew all these things about art, and culture. My whole life changed after we met… but it was easier to get used to that change and that lifestyle, than it was to the change after he passed away. In twelve years I had three weeks away from Freddie which was the last time I was in Australia. I would tell him I needed a holiday and he’d say but darling we’ve just come back from holiday.” Such comments make one surprised that the two were never lovers, but “I was the only one at Garden Lodge that Freddie never had sex with, which is perhaps why we had a different sort of closeness,” Peter says.

“He was very promiscuous. There’d be a different man after every show,… but he had boyfriends. Jim (Hutton) and he were together for the final seven years of his life, and he tried to be faithful because it upset Jim when he wasn’t.” Indeed many of Mercury’s ex-lovers held him in high regard and his girlfriend of six years Mary Austin inherited Garden Lodge after he died. “I feel a bit sorry for Mary” Peter says, “Freddie made that home what it was. When he died, so did the house as far as I was concerned. I couldn’t live there now because everything would remind me of him and of a time that has passed.”

The Freddie Mercury that Peter Freestone paints is a warm, caring, but perhaps egotistical and hedonistic man. However, I wonder about his dichotomies and complexities especially given his love of art and culture. Perhaps these were things he kept even from Freestone or perhaps those loves were based purely on aesthetics. The late Seventies and early Eighties were not a time of great social conscience and Freestone insists that Mercury’s personal philosophies about life and his music were that they were there to be enjoyed. “You know Queen were never political. Their songs were about being silly and having a good time. Freddie knew his power of appeal and he didn’t want to abuse that and make a rulebook for life, because there wouldn’t be one he could live up to himself… His music was there as a disposable tissue, to be used to let stuff out and then to be thrown away."

"Freddie wasn’t about categories and limitations and he didn’t believe that what he did in bed necessarily reflected who he was. When he was asked about his sexuality he’d always respond differently. I remember in one interview he said ‘you know I’m as gay as a daffodil’ and in another he said ‘I sleep with men, women and my cats.’ He created a life for himself that was free of those constraints, even though society then wasn’t as tolerant as it is twenty years later. Back then it was okay to be androgynous and infer your sexuality but not to be explicit about it, particularly if you were as Freddie was, of Persian or Indian extraction.” The cruel irony is that despite his success at libertinism, Mercury’s choices caught up with him when in Spring 1987 he found out he had contracted AIDS.

“I remember when he told me at the end of 1987; He came into the kitchen when I was working and said ‘Peter you know I’ve not been well’ and I said ‘Yes, and I’ve got an idea why,’ and he said to me, ‘Yes, I’ve got AIDS, but we’ll never speak of this again. I’m not dying now.’ It wasn’t until about eight months before he died that we went to Phillip’s, the auctioneers, and he fell down some marble steps because he was going blind. I had to help him up and that was when it hit home and I realised he wouldn’t be with us forever.”

Many rumours surrounded Mercury’s illness and it wasn’t until the day before he died that he released a press statement saying: “Following enormous conjecture from the press, I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV positive and have AIDS. I felt it correct to keep this information private in order to protect the privacy of those around me. However, the time has now come for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth, and I hope everyone will join me, my doctors and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease.”

“After Freddie died I spent six years trying to run away from him, but in the end I realised I never could. He’d given me this amazing life and opportunity. I left London and lived in Mallorca for a couple of years and then came back and was working in a hospital… I did an interview for one of those Sunday magazines and it suggested that Freddie and I were lovers. Of course this caused me much grief and I felt I had to leave my job at the hospital because of the patient’s concerns over the rumours about my AIDS status (which was negative). That incident made me aware that I couldn’t run away from him, and that instead I should embrace what he’d given me.”

“You know, with us, the divide between friend and assistant was always shifting…He’d shout at me and I’d shout back. He never wanted a ‘yes’ man. He had an amazing sense of humour, which could sometimes be downright vicious and I can remember sitting there with friends and him having us in hysterics.”

As Freestone is telling me a story about Freddie’s attempt at a driving lesson (he got out of the car midway through and caught a taxi home because he was terrified), I notice that when he talks about those times a fixed look of inward happiness and nostalgia comes over him. He really likes to talk about it and I wonder how much of his life has been lived vicariously through the long-departed rock star. Certainly there is very little that is rock star about Freestone. He is warm, in a polite gentlemanly way, quite portly and bares his opinions openly. However, one garners that he is still trying to move on with life. He would like to do more work for AIDS charities, “to speak about Freddie’s experience”, and he is writing a book (his second) of recipes for Queen fans, based on Freddie’s favourite meals.

For now though he is enjoying his last weekend in Melbourne, a city he says that he ‘really likes’, by going to watch an Aussie Rules match with his publicist. “Freddie used to love watching the Australian football, of course for his own reasons. The shorts were much shorter then,” he laughs.

I say to him that those twelve years of his life must have been amazing and that I’d noticed how loyal he’d remained to Mercury during the interview, and he says, “While Freddie was alive he was a teacher. He taught you the value of things: trust, appreciation, art, love, humour. Now school’s finished and we have to carry on our lives using what he’s given us.”

Finally I ask him what his life would have been like if Mercury had not contracted HIV and lost his life. “I’d still be working for him, I’m sure.”

It's A Kinda Magic - The Most Sensational Queen Tribute Ever Staged - Direct From The UK

Peter is quoted as saying of the show, “It's the greatest recreation of a night of Queen existing in the world today”

AUSTRALIAN TOUR 2005

Toowoomba - Empire Theatre - May 30
Brisbane - QPAC - June 1
Canberra Theatre - June 5
Sydney - State Theatre - June 6
Wollongong - WIN Entertainment Centre - June 8
Melbourne - Hamer Hall - June 10
Adelaide - Thebarton Theatre - June 17
Newcastle - Civic Theatre - June 21
Bundaberg - Moncrief - June 24
Rockhampton - Pilbeam - June 25
Cairns - Civic Theatre - June 27
Townsville - Civic Theatre - June 29
Mackay Theatre - July 2

For more information, visit

www.queen.itsakindamagic.com