(September 23, 2021) No matter where in the world you are, if you like listening to music then there’s a mighty good chance you’ve heard the name ‘Freddie Mercury’ a British-Indian singer at least once in your life.
Mercury was the definition of a Rockstar. His highly theatrical style heavily influenced the creative direction of his band and during his career, he wrote songs that would go down in history as cult classics (think: Bohemian Rhapsody, Somebody to Love, We are the Champions). However, long before the world knew him as the flamboyant lead vocalist of the rock band Queen, Freddie Mercury, a British-Indian singer, was but a shy boy from British-ruled India.
Here are a few things you might not have known about one of the greatest rock frontmen of all time…
1. His true identity
Mercury’s birth name was Farrokh Bulsara, and he was born on 5th September 1946 in Stone Town in the British protectorate of Zanzibar. His father, Bomi Bulsara was born in the state of Gujarat in western India and, like many other young men at the time, he and his brothers left the country and went to Zanzibar in search of work. Bomi worked as a cashier for the British High Court, due to which he had to travel to and from India quite often. It was during these travels that he met his future wife, Jer.
2. The India connect
Farrokh Bulsara attended British boarding schools in India from the age of eight. He was sent to study at the St. Peter’s School for Boys in Panchgani, a hill station near Bombay. It was also at St. Peter’s that Farrokh started calling himself “Freddie”. In February 1963, after completing his secondary education, Freddie moved back to Zanzibar and lived with his parents. Ajay Goyal and Subhash Gudka, who studied at St. Peter’s as well and knew Farrokh, once shared a few memories of him as a school-boy. They believed that the Bulsaras were relatively wealthy since they could afford to send their son to a British-style boarding school all the way across the Arabian Sea, in a whole other country.
3. Remember the time?
Subhash Gudka, who would have been a few classes ahead of Mercury, recalled that there were about sixty students travelling from East Africa to India for educational purposes. He took the same ship as Mercury and remembered that he would board at Mombasa and Mercury at Zanzibar and the two would sit together in First Class. When Ajay Goyal heard the name ‘Freddie Mercury’ many years later, he never made the connection that it was the very same Farrokh from his school. He only made the discovery when he came across his school alumni page.
4. Not the showman
Gudka remembered Mercury as a shy fellow who wasn’t terribly chatty. He also remembered that he was already displaying an undeniable flair for music in school. Goyal, who was in the same class as Mercury for two years, said that out of each batch, a few students would sign up for music lessons and while Goyal was just taking up the violin, the future music legend was already a fluent pianist. Mercury as a British-Indian singer had begun music lessons when he was seven-years-old. At the age of 12, he formed a school band, The Hectics, that covered songs by rock and roll artists like Cliff Richard and Little Richard. One of his former bandmates said that he exclusively listened to, and played, Western pop music. Another friend recalled that Mercury had the uncanny ability to listen to a song on the radio and perfectly replicate what he heard on the piano. He may have been a shy kid, but he was never a nobody.
5. Life influencing art
In 1964, due to the Zanzibar Revolution, Mercury and his family had to flee their home and move to the town of Middlesex in England. He completed his graduation from the Ealing Art College, after which he began developing his interest in music. He as a British-Indian singer, joined several bands, each for a brief amount of time, before finally meeting Brian May and Roger Taylor, in April 1970, who would go on to become the lead guitarist and drummer, respectively, in Queen.
It was around the same time that he legally changed his surname from Bulsara to Mercury. According to Brian May, it happened after Mercury wrote the lyrics to the song My Fairy King in Queen’s debut studio album. One of the lines had the words, “Mother Mercury, look what they’ve done to me… I cannot run, I cannot hide.” Freddie told Brian that this song was supposedly written keeping his own mother in mind and that he intended to change his last name to Mercury. At the time, Brian wondered if he was kidding or not, because apparently, one could never tell with Freddie. But looking back on his legacy, years later, the whole world now knows that he was not.