From the Queen frontman's love of cats to dressing Princess Diana in drag
Alexandra Pollard
12:07 24th November 2014

23 November: In 1991, after months of media speculation, Queen's Freddie Mercury released a statement revealing he was suffering from AIDS: "The time has now come for my friends and family around the world to know the truth." The following day, Mercury died.

It was characteristic of Mercury, who was so publicly flamboyant but so privately shy, to keep his illness from the public eye for as long as he possibly could. After all, the same statement read, "I am famous my lack of interviews. Please understand this policy will continue." As such, facts and stories about him are scarce and precious - but they do exist.

To celebrate the life of one of music's greatest loved frontmen, who died 23 years ago today, here are some stories of the man behind the music. 

  • Princess Diana: According to comedian Cleo Rocos' autobiography, Freddie Mercury used to disguise Princess Diana as a man so she could join them on nights out without being recognised. Rocos writes, "When we walked in... we felt she was obviously Princess Diana and would be discovered at any minute. But people just seemed to blank her. She sort of disappeared. But she loved it."

  • Bill Reid: Mercury had a very temperamental relationship with his boyfriend Bill Reid, including physical fights. The pair once screamed at each other so much during an argument that Mercury woke up with almost no voice left - on the day that Queen were supposed to perform on Saturday Night Live. Mercury only just managed to get his voice back in time for the show. On another occasion, he bit his hand so hard it bled.

  • Playing the piano: Freddie Mercury was known for his dramatic piano songs, but didn't actually have much confidence in himself as a piano player - he was convinced that he'd mess up during a live performance of 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. As a result, he started trying to include less piano-playing in his songs.

  • Michael Jackson: It's no secret that Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson tried collaborating on a few songs, but the union apparently fell apart because Jackson kept bringing his pet llama into the studio. According to the biopic Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender, Mercury even rang his manager to tell him "I'm performing with a llama!" before giving up and deciding he'd had enough.

  • The Beach Boys: Freddie Mercury recorded a cover of the Beach Boys' 'I Can Hear The Music' under the pseudonym Larry Lurex, as it was being released at the same time as Queen's first album. The name Larry Lurex was supposed to be a play on Gary Glitter's name, but Glitter's fans weren't amused and the single sank without a trace.

  • The bottomless mic stand: The mic 'stick' was one of Mercury's trademarks, but actually came about by accident. Queen were apparently in the middle of a concert when the microphone stand snapped, leaving Mercury with only the top half. He liked it so much that he continued to use it in future concerts.

  • Kensal Green Cemetery: Freddie Mercury's final resting place was never known. The star was cremated after his death and only long-time girlfriend Mary Austin knew where the ashes were. However, fans discovered a plaque in Kensal Green Cemetery bearing his name - which later disappeared. The mystery continues.

  • His pet cats: Mercury absolutely adored his pet cats, and would speak to them on the phone while on tour (with the help of former girlfriend Mary Austin). He also wrote the Queen song 'Delilah' about his cat Delilah, and apparently had a waistcoat on which he'd painted pictures of all his cats.

  • It's A Hard Life: Before filming the video for 'It's A Hard Life', Mercury had only just had a plaster cast removed after he broke his leg while drunk in a Munich bar. In the end scene, when Mercury sits down on the stairs, he's visibly cautious about doing so - and definitely favours one side.

  • Overbite: Mercury was encouraged to have corrective surgery to fix his overbite, which was caused by four extra teeth forcing out his incisors. He refused, and his recognisable teeth became a much-loved part of Mercury's aesthetic.

  • 'The Show Must Go On': The final track on Mercury's final album with Queen was recorded just a few months before his death. Brian May was concerned about whether Mercury, who was suffering from AIDs and could barely walk, would be able to complete the take. Mercury consumed a measure of vodka, said "I'll fucking do it darling", and sang the vocals in one take.

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Photo: WENN