When you think of Freddie Mercury, you think of crowns and a king’s cape. You think of insanely high vocal ranges and fabulous stage dancing, wild parties and sex, drugs and rock and roll. But many don’t know of Freddie’s life as a simple boy in Zanzibar, where he was born.
After his parents sending to boarding school in what is now Mumbai, they realized he had a natural talent for playing the piano. As his mother once said, “Right from the start, Freddie was musical. He had it on his mind all the time.” He even started a school band called The Hectics, when he was only 12 years old, and they covered rock and roll artists like Little Richard. Mercury was obsessed with Western pop music.
Freddie Mercury's real name was Farrokh Bulsara
Did you know that Freddie Mercury was born as Farrokh Bulsara, to Persian parents from India? He was born in Zanzibar, on September 5, 1946. His father worked in the British Colonial Office as a cashier, and they were quite a conservative Persian family.
Farrokh started by going by the name of Freddie when he was a young boy studying in Mumbai, which his family had sent him to when he was 8 years old. However, he legally changed his name to Freddie Mercury around 1970, when Queen started. He chose ‘Mercury’ because he really liked the hot liquid chemical element, and Mercury has his start sign, too! In Persian mythology, Mercury is the messenger of truth and love, which he considered himself to be as well.
Mercury was a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport
Freddie returned to Zanzibar when he finished school in Mumbai, but in 1964, he moved to England with his family in order to escape the violent riots that were to be the start of the Zanzibar Revolution. They moved to a small house in Middlesex, England.
Wanting him to have a college education, his parents convinced him to start studying. Freddie studied art in West London for a while, and then switched to graphic art and design, which he graduated from in 1969, earning a 2-year diploma. Mercury started a part-time job as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport. He loved music and was often seen at many underground concerts in London, until he met Brian May and Roger Taylor, which were the guitarist and drummer of Smile, a band he joined in 1970s. Mercury changed the band’s name to Queen in 1971.
“I’m not going to be a pop star. I’m going to be a legend!”
Freddie knew he was destined to be a legend since he was a little boy. His unparalleled passion for music was something out of this world, which was what made him the rock and roll giant he became. Before he became their lead singer, Mercury listened to the band Smile every time they had a gig. He loved their sound, and was determined to be a part of it.
Freddie was so sure that he was going to make it as a musician, that he used to say he was going to be a big pop start all the time, to anyone who would listen. Chris Smith, once a member of Smile, recalls seeing Mercury with his hands on his face one time, and when he asked if he was okay, Freddie just shouted, “I’m not going to be a pop star. I’m going to be a legend!” You were right, Mr. Mercury.
Mercury's first time on stage
Freddie became Smile’s lead singer in the most unexpected way. The band’s lead singer at the time left the band in 1970, leaving a spot open for new talent. Being so in love with their sound and not wanting them to disband for good, Freddie took the chance and told the other band members he wanted to be their lead singer. All it took was for the other band members to hear his voice.
Mercury immediately became part of the band, and later changed its name to Queen, which caused a lot of controversy at the time, due to its association to the LGBTQ community. Freddie simply said he loved the name because “it was regal and sounded splendid! Controversy or not, Queen was about to change the history of music, forever.