Bohemian Rhapsody’ originally had a different title, and other secrets revealed in Sotheby’s exhibition of Freddie Mercury’s personal belongings

Hong Kong fans of British rock band Queen can see items from Freddie Mercury’s personal collection in person at Sotheby’s Freddie Mercury—A World of His Own exhibition until June 30, 2023. Among the collection includes never-before-seen working lyrics in Mercury’s own handwriting, his Adidas trainers, moustache comb and a gold Cartier brooch.

Hong Kong is the only city in Asia to host this collection before the items—around 20 or so—return to London for a month-long exhibition alongside more than 1,000 other items, also from Mercury’s personal belongings, from August 4 to September 5. After that, the collection will be sold in public and private auctions in September.

These items not only highlight different aspects of Mercury’s life, they also reveal fun facts and secret stories that are less well-known to many. Yesterday, Tatler attended the press preview and here are the top five revelations Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s books and manuscripts specialist, shared with us.

Garden Lodge record
Mercury was known for his flamboyant, lavish and fun-loving character and lifestyle, and the fact that he was fond of hosting gatherings—whether that is large-scale birthday parties for a guest list of hundreds or intimate dinner parties—at his home called Garden Lodge in Kensington, West London.

Within the Freddie Mercury—A World of His Own exhibition is a record of one such dinner party where one of his guests was Spanish opera soprano Montserrat Caballé, with whom Mercury had collaborated for the album Barcelona (1988). It was the second and final album Mercury recorded outside of his work with Queen, and the collaboration with such a different artist had a lot to do with the wild dinner party.

“The two sang together until 2.30 in the morning, when she had to catch a plane,” Heaton says. “It was Montserrat who said, ‘Freddie, we must work together.’ He said, ‘Okay, shall we write a song?’ She said, ‘No, no, no, not a song. We’ll do an album’. It was terrifying [for Mercury]. He wasn’t a trained opera singer.”

Custom crown
Designed by costume designer, and Mercury’s friend, Diana Moseley specifically for the singer, the crown was worn by Mercury on stage during his Magic Tour in 1986. The crown, paired with a regal red robe, was “a brilliant example of his exuberant flamboyant costumes. [There were] lots and lots more like that. He was very interested in costume; he used to sew sequins on to his stage costumes and worked very closely with designers,” says Heaton.

The crown is estimated to fetch between £30K and 40K—but just so you know, the gemstones are fake.

A drawing of his cat by Walt Disney Studio
Mercury loved cats and once dedicated a solo album to his cats, which included a song about Delilah who lived with him in Garden Lodge. Delilah wasn’t his favourite—he once said it was difficult for him to pick a favourite—but she was the one he wanted to write a song about.

“She was apparently a true queen of Garden Lodge,” Heaton says. “Everyone had to do what she said every day.”

The artwork, done by Walt Disney Studios, was a gift that was produced probably in Mercury’s final year.

Adidas trainers
Throughout his career, Mercury had several pairs of Adidas trainers that he only wore onstage, and the pair on display is identical to the ones he wore for the Magic Tour, which was widely considered the greatest tour of his career, and was featured in the 2018 film, Bohemian Rhapsody.

While Sotheby’s cannot confirm whether the pair on display was worn by the singer on the Magic Tour, Heaton points out that they were his performance shoes. “You can clearly see through all the marks. He never wore these off stage, they were purely for the stage,” he says.

Working lyrics to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (1974)
Released in 1975, Bohemian Rhapsody is the second best-selling single in the history of the Official Charts and once topped the chart twice. The first time was upon its original release and the second time in 1991 following Mercury’s death. The song marked a hugely important moment in his personal life, his career with Queen and the history of western pop music. However, it is clear from the working lyrics that it took a little while to get there.

The manuscript showcased reveals the song as a work in progress, and in the musician’s own handwriting, a year before its release. Back then, Mercury had a different title for it: “You have the words ‘Mongolian Rhapsody’ and ‘Mongolian’ crossed out,” Heaton points out. “He always knew what emotional tone he wanted to reach, and he knew that very early.”

Heaton explains that Mercury liked fitting syllables to the music even if the words’ meaning end up being disconnected to the emotions of the song. In this case, “Mongolian” was simply chosen to fit the syllables Mercury wanted, that would also pair well with “rhapsody”, even though the singer had never travelled to Mongolia before. The more you know.

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