Backstage pass: Snapshots of Freddie Mercury's weird and wonderful life on tour

16 July 2021, 11:49 | Updated: 6 July 2022, 16:38

Freddie Mercury pictured backstage at Queen's famous Slane Castle, Ireland concert on July 5, 1986. Picture: Getty

By Giorgina Ramazzotti

Freddie Mercury's stage presence is renowned all over the world, yet less is known of his life backstage. We round up a gallery of candid off-guard moments and insider stories of Freddie Mercury as he travelled - and partied - across the world on the road with Queen.

Queen recorded over fifteen studio albums and were constantly travelling the globe - they toured Japan six times alone - producing more radio-friendly pop music as they evolved, and becoming one of the most popular and enduring bands of the 20th century.

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The band's unusual name - a mix of sexuality and class - was Freddie Mercury's idea, and speaking to People in 1977, he confirmed: “The whole point was to be pompous and provocative, to prompt speculation and controversy."

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Yet behind their electric on stage personas and incredible star power, Roger Taylor, Brian May, John Deacon and Freddie Mercury were often on the road, travelling from country to country, based in hotel rooms and frequenting backstage venues - living much of their lives away from the spotlight.

Freddie Mercury against the Nagoya Castle while on tour in Japan on April 22, 1975. Picture: Getty
Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor relax backstage at the Hankyu Nishinomiya Stadium after a show on the Hot Space Japan tour, Nishinomiya, Japan, 24 October 1982. Picture: Getty
Freddie Mercury gets training from a ballet instructor in Covent Garden, August 1979. Picture: Getty
Freddie Mercury on Queen's fifth tour of Japan, in an interview photo session for 'Music Life' magazine, on the band's Hot Space Japan tour at a hotel in Fukuoka, Japan, 19 October 1982. Picture: Getty

“Freddie was very extrovert onstage, as we all know, but he was very shy in his private life and liked to be private,” Brian May told People in 2017.

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“He liked those moments of just having a couple of his close friends around. We’d known each other a long time and we were almost like family. We had no airs and graces with each other."

Excerpts from the book Queen Unseen, written by the band's ex-roadie, Peter Hince, gives detailed insight into life backstage on tour with Queen - and the hard work that went into making sure that behind the scenes was up-to-par for the well-travelled band.

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"Queen’s dressing rooms varied in size and style, depending on the venue. Theatres had dedicated dressing rooms, but sports-arena and convention-centre-style venues had functional facilities that had to be ‘dressed’ before they could be deemed a dressing room worthy of Queen’s visit."

Freddie Mercury takes a photo with a Polaroid camera backstage, Los Angeles, US, circa 1977. Picture: Getty
Freddie messing about holding cuddly toys in his hotel while on tour in Tokyo, April 1979. Picture: Getty
Freddie Mercury takes a moment to catch his breath during a ballet class in Covent Garden, London on 3rd October 1979. Picture: Getty
Freddie Mercury between laughing with the crowd between songs on tour with Queen in 1982. Picture: Getty

Not to be shy of home comforts, big pieces of furniture and soft furnishings were brought in to make life as comfortable as possible for the band.

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"Carpet and rugs were laid down on the cold concrete floors, bare walls draped with material or pictures, and furniture, lamps, flowers and ‘objets’ were introduced to make it more comfortable and relaxing for the visiting artistes," Peter Hince confirmed.

"There were adjoining showers, makeup mirrors, areas for Queen’s wardrobe cases and a central space for relaxing, with tables of food and bins of iced drinks against the walls."

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And it wasn't just Freddie's incredible voice that captured his audience on stage, his forward-thinking style - and unusual wardrobe choices - were making him an icon of his time.

“I think Freddie was one of the early exponents of the androgynous movement — like David Bowie,” says designer Zandra Rhodes, who created some of Mercury's most iconic costumes during Queen’s early period.

Freddie Mercury in signature PVC leather at a post-concert party in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1977. Picture: Getty
Brian May and Freddie Mercury relaxing backstage during the band's US tour, January 1977. Picture: Getty
Queen posing with actress and Queen Elizabeth II look-alike, Jeannette Charles, September 1974. The group are (left to right) drummer Roger Taylor, guitarist Brian May, bassist John Deacon and singer Freddie Mercury. Picture: Getty
Lead singer Freddie Mercury performing on stage on his 38th birthday in drag at Wembley Arena. 5th September 1984. Picture: Getty

“I think he’d seen my chiffons with feathers and exotic sleeves and extreme approach to fashion,” she tells People.

The most famous look Zandra designed for Freddie was a flowing white silk “batwing” cape shirt, that had it's starting point, of all things, in a wedding dress that Freddie came across in a private meeting with the designer.

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“He and Brian came to my tiny Bayswater attic studio, incognito," she recalls.

"I asked Freddie to look along my rail of clothes and he chose an exotic pleated bridal top I had on the rail! He danced around in it in my studio.”

It was through his love of fashion that Freddie met the women that would be by his side for the rest of his life, Mary Austin.

Freddie at a Queen after-party with the band's manager John Reid, March 1977. Picture: Getty
Freddie and Jane Seymour relax backstage at during the Fashion Aid benefit concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London, 5th November 1985. Picture: Getty
Freddie Mercury with friends comedian Billy Connolly and DJ Kenny Everett, during Mercury's 38th birthday party at the Xenon nightclub, 1984. Picture: Getty
Freddie Mercury pictured in his dressing room backstage at Queen's famous Slane Castle, Ireland concert on July 5, 1986. Picture: Getty

The pair met in 1969 when Mary was just 19-years-old and working at the glamorous Biba fashion boutique, and Freddie was 24.

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Intimate moments capture Freddie's relationship with girlfriend Mary Austin as they relax together backstage and in private throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and in 2000 Mary spoke about how their relationship changed from romantic to a lifelong friendship.

“I knew that this man wasn’t at one with himself over something,” she says in Rudi Dolezal’s Grammy-nominated 2000 documentary Freddie Mercury: The Untold Story.

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Eventually Freddie confessed his sexuality to Mary. “I felt like a huge burden had been lifted,” she recalled. “Once that had been discussed, he was like the person I’d known in the early years.”

Freddie Mercury with Mary Austin, during Mercury's 38th birthday party at the Xenon nightclub, London, UK, September 1984. Picture: Getty
Freddie and Mary Austin at Kempton Park Racecourse in Surrey, to promote Queen's album 'A Day at the Races', September 23rd 1976. Freddie is also accompanied by manager John Reid. Picture: Getty

Mary was to be a mainstay by Freddie's side, often in his dressing room backstage and travelling on tour with the band from continent to continent - his best friend and confidante.

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“All my lovers asked me why they couldn’t replace Mary, but it’s simply impossible,” Freddie said in a 1985 interview. “The only friend I’ve got is Mary, and I don’t want anybody else.

"To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage. We believe in each other, that’s enough for me.”

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Freddie and Mary remained close friends - his ex-girlfriend was entrusted with the majority of the star's death when he died - and in 1985 he met partner Jim Hutton whom he would remain in a relationship with until his death on November 24, 1991.

Freddie Mercury backstage at the Groenoordhal Leiden, Netherlands on November 27, 1980. Picture: Getty
Freddie Mercury with Cliff Richard at an after-party in London on 9th April 1986. Picture: Getty
Freddie Mercury gets his hair done backstage by his hairdresser circa 1977. Picture: Getty
Freddie Mercury and John Deacon pictured playing to a crowd in 1986 from the side of the stage. Picture: Getty