MERCURY, Freddie (1946-1991)
Plaque erected in 2016 by English Heritage at 22 Gladstone Avenue, Feltham, London, TW14 9LL, London Borough of Hounslow
Singer and Songwriter
Music and Dance
FREDDIE MERCURY (FRED BULSARA) 1946-1991 Singer and Songwriter lived here
Freddie Mercury is one of the greatest stars in the history of rock music. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – written by Mercury and performed with Queen – remains one of Britain’s best-loved songs. Mercury started to explore his musical talents as a teenager when he moved with his family to 22 Gladstone Avenue in Feltham, where he is now commemorated with a blue plaque.
FREDDIE IN FELTHAM
Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara to British Indian parents on the island of Zanzibar. He was known as ‘Fred’ rather than Farrokh even before the family came to London, and signed himself as Fred Bulsara on letters until 1970, when he changed his name to Mercury.
After attending a British public school in India he returned to Zanzibar but was forced to flee to London with his family in 1964 when the island’s violent revolution broke out. The Bulsara family moved into 22 Gladstone Avenue in November of that year, and Mercury lived there on-and-off until about 1970. He crashed at various London flats between 1966 and 1969 while he studied for a Diploma in Graphic Art and Design at Ealing College and took various jobs to support himself, including washing dishes in the kitchens of Heathrow Airport, just a stone’s throw from Gladstone Avenue.
Mercury’s mother, Jer Bulsara, recalls her son writing music during this time:
He used to write all his music before going to college, put it under the pillow and [tell] me not to remove any of the bits from underneath.
It was at Ealing College that he was introduced to the band Smile, whose members included Brian May on guitar and Roger Taylor on drums. At the unveiling of Mercury’s plaque, May, who also grew up in Feltham, recalled visiting Freddie at number 22:
He had a Dansette record player and I distinctly remember him putting a Jimi Hendrix record on. He said ‘Listen to this, this is what we have to do!’ And I said to him, ‘Well, can you sing?’
When Smile split up in 1969, Queen was born.
Mercury was both a talented songwriter and an exceptional performer. He wrote the band’s first big hit, ‘Killer Queen’ (1974), and their most famous of all, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (1975). The other hits composed by him include ‘Somebody to Love’ (1976), ‘We are the Champions’ (1977), ‘Don't Stop Me Now’ (1978) and ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ (1979). All four band members penned number one singles, with hits written by the others including ‘We Will Rock You’ (1977), ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ (1980) and ‘I Want to Break Free’ (1984).
Queen were prime developers of stadium rock, and their spectacular concerts were dominated by Mercury’s energetic and flamboyant stage presence. Off stage, however, he was a private, even shy, man. He was secretive about his roots in Zanzibar and never publicly stated that he was homosexual. In the mid-1980s rumours persisted that Mercury had tested HIV-positive, but he constantly denied them. In the autumn of 1990 he returned to the studio to record what was to be the group’s last album, Innuendo, which entered the UK charts at number one.
Mercury died from bronchial pneumonia at his London home on 24 November 1991, aged 45, a day after announcing that he was suffering from AIDS.