Peter Freestone was Freddie Mercury’s right-hand man. His personal assistant, biographer and close friend. He was also the Queen frontman’s constant companion during the final 12 years of his life.
Who better to turn to for advice when putting together a Queen tribute show?
Queen: It’s A Kinda Magic recreates Queen’s 1986 World Tour concert and features the band’s greatest hits performed live including We Will Rock You, Bohemian Rhapsody, We Are the Champions and Fat-Bottomed Girls, along with a few obscure Queen tracks that die-hard fans will truly appreciate.
Freestone schooled the cast and producers on the characteristics and nuances of the original band in order to perfect the performance and worked closely with Giles Taylor, who takes on the role of Mercury.
It is precisely this attention to detail that director Johnny Van Grinsven attributes the show’s continued success to – everything from the costumes, instruments and even the lighting cues have been designed to replicate those seen in real Queen concerts.
“We’re extremely lucky to have Peter involved. He knows Freddie and the boys so well; his knowledge about who they are and how they moved and played and even their sense of humour has really helped take this show to the next level,” Van Grinsven says.
Says Freestone: “I’ve not seen another act in the world do it better.”
Now living in Czech Republic, Freestone is tirelessly working raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, the disease that claimed the life of Mercury.
“It is one of the things most dear to my heart,” he tells Weekender.
“This is something that is not going away. Researchers have been trying to find a cure since the 1980s and while each year there are claims of getting closer, at the moment it can still kill you, if untreated.”
Freestone was working for the Royal Ballet when he first met Mercury at a charity show after-party.
“He asked what I did at the Royal Opera House as he had seen me there at rehearsals. I explained my job, taking care of the costumes for the dancers and making sure their stage entrances looked good.
“That was the end of the conversation but 10 days later someone from Queen management called my boss asking if I would be able to do a six-week tour with Queen looking after their costumes.”
He went on to become Mercury’s personal assistant. A typical day for Freestone went something like this:
“I would make sure Freddie had a cup of tea at his bedside by 9am every day. I would then wait in the kitchen until he came down the stairs. If he answered the ‘good morning’ with a smile and a happy voice, you knew you could carry out the plans for the day. If the answer was a grunt and a scowl, basically all plans were on hold until Freddie stated what he wanted to do.
“I was there basically to answer the phone, the door, do some food shopping, some cooking and generally see that he always had his favourite clothes ready to wear.
“He might want a lunch with friends arranged so I would call them to see if they could make it. Sometimes Freddie would call himself. I would be there to pay the bill and organise transport home.
“Generally afternoons were a time to recharge the batteries before dinner in a restaurant and then a night in the bars. I was always the one who sorted out the bills at the end of the night.
“Once home, it was time to sort out drinks and maybe snacks for guests who had accompanied Freddie home. Bed would be anything from 3am to 6am.”
Freestone’s job was to take the day-to-day worries out of Mercury’s life. At his peak, Mercury was without peer.
“Freddie was from a time when musicians and performers spent years creating their personas, both on and off the stage,” Freestone explains.
“He created the greatest rock performer of his time when filming and videoing shows was still fairly new. He built on what he already possessed and made all the fans at any show feel he performed just for them. He could afford and lived a wonderful lifestyle but not one that would immediately be associated with a rock star. He was very shy with strangers but once they became friends he could be the life and soul of the party.”
At the height of his popularity, though, tragedy struck.
“In 1986 Freddie appeared more tired than usual. He had completed the massive Magic Tour and really wanted some peace and quiet. I think he already suspected what was wrong,” Freestone says.
“At Easter in 1987 Freddie accepted the diagnosis of HIV/AIDS. Nobody had any idea how long he had left. He just knew he had to make music until he could no longer sing or create it. He knew death was waiting for him, but he would accept it on his terms.”
He just knew he had to make music until he could no longer sing or create it.
He died on November 24, 1991.
“I thought I was dealing with it well until a good friend told me that life would look better if I wasn’t seeing it through the bottom of an empty glass,” Freestone says.
“I did run away for a while, hugging a vodka bottle. The whole reason for me getting up every morning for 12 years was gone. One day in 1995 I woke up and asked myself why I was doing this. And I stopped.”