Sotheby’s Reveals Rock Legend Freddie Mercury’s Private World, Indian Roots

LONDON: Hordes of eager fans have lined up for days lately outside Sotheby’s in London in a scene reminiscent of a rock concert — not to witness iconic British band Queen’s charismatic anchorman Freddie Mercury’s electrifying stage presence, but for an exclusive glimpse into the private world of the legend.

Mary Austin, his ex-girlfriend and soulmate, has made a decision to auction off the contents of his Garden Lodge home in Kensington, a treasure trove left to her in his will. Mary, now in her 70s, has decided to keep the house that hadn’t changed for three decades since Mercury’s passing in 1991, aged 45.
Inside Sotheby’s, a 16,000-sq-foot gallery space has been transformed into a never-before-seen exhibition. Walking through the exhibition preceding the auction, scheduled for September 6, is akin to taking a tour through the various stages of Mercury’s life.

His antique furniture, dazzling cat suits, well-worn sneakers, the iconic silver snake bracelet, cat ornaments and photos, his grand piano, hand-written manuscripts, and even his Tiffany moustache comb are on display, like relics from a bygone era of rock royalty. Each item, whether it’s one of his signature jackets, his regal crown and cloak, or the vibrant kimonos, tells a story of flamboyant fashion that only Mercury could pull off with such flair.

Yet, what’s striking is the limited Indian influence in his collection. Despite his Indian roots, Mercury rarely spoke about his heritage in public. Born as Farrokh Bulsara to Indian Parsi parents in Zanzibar, his connection to India was a deeply personal one. He changed his name from Farrokh to Freddie whilst at school in India, and he officially became Freddie Mercury in 1971.
One intriguing aspect of Mercury’s collection is his late fascination with Indian art. Seven months before his death, he acquired three Indian paintings, including a 16th-century miniature with an estimated bidding price of around Rs 50 lakh. The framed illustrated folio from the third Akbarnama by Indian artist Khem, depicts a prince on horseback. It is believed to have been commissioned by Humayun’s wife Hamida Banu Begum.

The other Indian items on display are a small silver pot from Kashmir and a silver cigar case containing Para-Grams by Paramahansa Yogananda, which was gifted to him by sixties pop star Dave Clark.

Sotheby’s specialist in Indian art, Rukmani Rathore, speculated that Mercury’s connection to his Indian-Persian heritage may have deepened as he grappled with his terminal illness. There are Arabic and Persian words in the anthemic “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but India didn’t play a huge part in Mercury’s life until the very end when he probably tried to connect with his roots, Rathore said.
The Sotheby’s restaurant pays homage to Mercury’s tastes with a menu featuring his favourite dishes, like “akoori” (Indian scrambled eggs) and tandoori lamb chops, linking his musical journey to his culinary preferences. The Story Café, adorned with cat wallpaper and photos of Mercury with his beloved 11 cats, provides an intimate glimpse into his personal life.

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