Cat Fancy / Freddie Mercury Article
With today being Freddie Mercury's birthday, I decided to re-visit an article from the archive. There are times you surprise yourself on a job well done, but this article is one I'm very proud of. Not only because I got to cover one of my favorite bands, but of the challenges I had to write it.
When Cat Fancy Magazine was planning a special “Cats Rock” section for the October 2003 issue, a friend put me in touch with their Associate Editor to discuss which musicians - who obliviously had to be cat owners - would be interesting to cover. A few I mentioned were rejected, and a few they wanted were not interested in being interviewed, but when I mentioned Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, the editor's ears picked up and gave me my first assignment for the magazine.
The problem was how to do my research. Mercury passed away over a decade before and not everything was accessible online at the time. Being a Queen fan, I already knew some facts about Freddie's cats and fortunately Jacky Gunn, who has run the official Queen Fan Club for many years, was more than happy to be interviewed via email. I pored over the books "Freddie Mercury", written by his personal assistant Peter Freestone, and "Mercury And Me" by his boyfriend Jim Hutton, and got lighthearted stories and tidbits about my subject from sources as close to Mercury as it gets.
Originally the piece was going to be a short sidebar, yet the more I learned about Freddie and his feline family, the longer my editor extended the word count. Soon it was bumped up to be the cover story.
I think what made this article so special was that it revealed a very human side to an extraordinary frontman who was very guarded about his private life. It proved that despite his worldwide fame, money and talent, all his cats were rescues and he was just like every other pet owner. It was rewarding to me, as a writer and fellow "cat lady", to discover all these incredible facts about a man I had been a fan of for years, and in the end it made me feel closer to his spirit. The article has since been picked up by Queen fan sites, and friends compliment me on it to this day.
Freddie Mercury and His Best Friends Cat Fancy Magazine By Gail Flug Queen’s legendary frontman was a feline fancier through and through.
In many people’s eyes, Freddie Mercury was one of the world’s most dynamic and charismatic rock frontmen. As vocalist for the band Queen, he immortalized songs such as “You’re My Best Friend,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Another One Bites The Dust” and the legendary “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Queen’s music echoes through arenas with the thunderous double-stomp and clap of “We Will Rock You” to the triumphant “We Are The Champions.”
The public Freddie was known for his outrageous parties and excessive lifestyle, but in private he was very shy and reserved. And while he could command an audience of hundreds of thousands, he couldn’t drive and half-joked that he couldn’t cook an egg!
Yet for the man who had the love of countless fans, he loved his cats most. Peter Freestone, Mercury’s personal assistant and cook, wrote in his book “Freddie Mercury” that his boss put as much importance on them as any human in his life.
Jacky Smith, who has run the Official Queen Fan Club for 21 years, said, “Most of them were from rescue centers. We have a charity [in the United Kingdom] called The Blue Cross, which takes care of sick animals. Freddie got at least two from them, if not more.”
“No particular reason for the moggies,” she added, “although I think he felt good that he was actually rescuing them and giving them a loving home. It makes you feel good when you can do something like that!”
Queen fans know quite well Mercury’s love for felines. After all, he did dedicate his solo album, “Mr. Bad Guy,” to his cat Jerry, as well as the rest of his brood at the time, and extended the note to “all the cat lovers across the universe.”
“Innuendo,” the last album he recorded with the group, included artwork of Mercury dressed as a jester with cats on his shoulders. It also featured the upbeat song “Delilah.” At first listen, you may believe it’s about a woman – at least until the line about her “peeing all over [his] Chippendale Suite.” The song also features a guitar solo from Brian May with harmonies that sound like meows. May has also had a few cats over the years. Presently, his travel commitments restrict him from having one, but according to Smith, “He still is a cat person as opposed to a dog person.”
Another clue of the singer’s love for cats appeared on the inside of the “Classic Queen” CD insert. For what would be his last portrait, Mercury wore a striking vest with cats on it, but closer inspection reveals that the handpainted cats featured are his own. He also wore it for his last video, “These Are The Days Of Our Lives.”
According to Smith, cat toys were sent from fans to the office from time to time, as the cats’ photos occasionally appeared in the club newsletter. Plenty of fans have also named their own cats Freddie, a gesture that, Smith said, would have flattered the singer.
Mercury’s first cats were Tom and Jerry, who he and then-girlfriend Mary Austin brought in during the early days of the band. She kept them when their relationship ended in the late ‘70s, yet he still considered them his, as the album dedication for “Mr. Bad Guy” proves. Austin, who remained his closest friend, gave him a lovely longhaired bluepoint he named Tiffany.
Oscar was an orange-and-white tom who came to live with him via a boyfriend. Oscar was more of a loner, though, and went to visit other homes around the neighborhood when Garden Lodge, the two-story mansion surrounded by gardens and walls, got too crowded by new arrivals.
The most famous feline of the Mercury clan is Delilah, a large, tri-colored tabby who was adopted in late 1987. As the lyrics to her song state, and Freestone’s book confirms, she took over the house and pretty much did whatever she pleased. “She was a real character, that lady!” agreed Smith. “Delilah was just kind of funny. She was a bit of a bully to the others, but was always first on his lap, first for food.” In turn, Mercury favored her as well, picking her up more than the others. She would also fun to him for safety when the other cats would gang up on her. She loved sleeping at the foot of his bed, or in the laundry baskets.
A black cat that arrived the same day as Delilah was named Goliath. The tiny cat had a habit of disappearing, especially when company came. Once, when it was noticed that he was gone for a long time, Mercury and his staff frantically searched the house only to find him sleeping in the marble sink in the bathroom. Freestone also wrote that he was “incredibly loving and dribbled his adoration at the slightest excuse.” Miko, another tabby, came just after a trip to Japan thus inspiration for her name. A white-faced tabby called Romeo was found by his boyfriend Jim Hutton and turned out to be quite a fighter. Finally, Lilly came home – Mercury had mentioned that he always wanted a white cat.
While Mercury had homes across the world, all the cats lived in London. He spent most of his time at Garden Lodge, for, as Freestone wrote, Mercury “knew home was where his cats were.”
“They were all well-loved and cared for and mostly ‘normal’ pussycats,” Smith said. But as Mercury would spoil the people he loved with gifts, did he spoil his cats as well? “Completely!” she replied. “They did get ordinary cat food at times, but mostly it was fresh chicken and fish prepared for them. I also remember he used to talk to them on the phone if he was away for a long time.”
Freestone also wrote that each cat got its own Christmas stocking filled with treats and toys. They had full run of the house and were permitted outside during the day to roam the gardens. There were the occasional territorial markings on the soft furnishings for his staff to clean up, and the quick trips to the vet if a cat showed the slightest hint of illness.
No one except for his closest friends knows how long Mercury was aware he was HIV-positive; although both Freestone and Smith believe that his cats knew. Their unconditional love gave him great comfort and company in his final days, and Mercury would never deny them admittance to his bedroom. Said Smith, “Cats have that fantastic sixth sense… I imagine that they knew he wasn’t well and spent more time with him. It’s just the thing cats would do.”
Before Mercury passed away on Nov. 24, 1991, he made sure all of his loved ones would be taken care of. “They all stayed at Garden Lodge with Mary, which is where they still are today,” said Smith. “I have heard reports of Delilah being spotted on top of the wall occasionally.”
It’s clear she still rules the house. Freddie wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.