by Steven Connelly
Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on Thursday September 5th 1946 on the small spice island of Zanzibar. His parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara, were both Persian; his father was a civil servant working as a High Court cashier for the British Government, and Freddie’s sister, Kashmira, was born in 1952. In 1954, at the age of eight, Freddie was shipped to St Peter’s English boarding school in Panchgani, about fifty miles outside Bombay.
It was there his friends began to call him Freddie, a name the family also adopted. As St Peter’s was an English school, the sports played there were typically English. Freddie loathed cricket and long-distance running, but he liked hockey, sprint and boxing, and at the age of 10 he became a school champion in table tennis. However, Freddie was not only a good sportsman, and his artistic skills were incomparable. At the age of twelve he was awarded the school trophy as Junior All-rounder. He loved art, and was always sketching for friends or relatives. He was also music mad and played records on the family’s old record player, stacking the singles to play constantly. The music he was able to get was mostly Indian, but some Western music was available. He would sing along to either and preferred music to school work.
The principal headmaster of St Peter’s had noticed Freddie’s musical talent, and wrote to his parents suggesting that they might wish to pay a little extra on Freddie’s school fees to enable him to study music properly. They agreed, and Freddie began to learn to play the piano. He also became a member of the school choir and took part regularly in school theatrical productions. He loved his piano lessons and applied himself to them with determination and skill, finally achieving Grade IV both in practical and theory. In 1958, five friends at St Peter’s – Freddie Bulsara, Derrick Branche, Bruce Murray, Farang Irani and Victory Rana – formed the school’s rock’n roll band, the Hectics, where Freddie was the piano player. They would play at school parties, at annual fetes and school dances, but little else is known about them. In 1962, Freddie finished school, returned to Zanzibar and spent his time with friends in and around the markets, parks and beaches. In 1964, many of the British and Indians, due to political unrest in Zanzibar, left their country, although not under forcible pressure, and among those driven out were the Bulsaras who migrated to England. Initially they lived with relatives in Feltham, Middlesex, until they were able to find their own small, terraced house in the area.
Freddie was seventeen, and had derided he wanted to go to art college, but needed at least one A level to ensure he could get in. In September 1964 he enrolled at the nearby Isleworth Polytechnic During vacations he took a variety of jobs to earn some money; one was in the catering department at Heathrow Airport, a stone’s throw from home, and the other was on the Feltham trading estate, where he had a job in a warehouse lifting and stacking heavy crates and boxes. His fellow workers commented on his ‘delicate’ hands, certainly not suited for such work, and asked him what he did. He told them he was a musician just ‘filling in time’, and such was his charm that those co-workers were soon doing the lion’s share of his work. He studied hard, although he preferred the aesthetic side of school life to the more mundane academic side, and easily achieved his Art A level, leaving Isleworth in the spring of 1966. His grade A pass and his natural skill ensured that he was readily accepted by Ealing College of Art and, in September 1966, Freddie began a graphic illustrating course at that college. After Jimi Hendrix exploded onto the scene in 1967, and Freddie became an ardent fan, he spent time sketching and drawing his hero; drawings he would frame and use to decorate the walls of his flat in Kensington, rented by his friend Chris Smith, where Freddie had moved from the family home in Feltham. At that time Kensington was an important place to be for the art crowd – it was the base of the famous Biba boutique and the home of Kensington Market, frequented by the then ‘in’ crowd.
Freddie Mercury was an unforgettable performer, and his tragic death on the 24th of November 1991 touched people across the globe. May he be remembered for years to come.