Freddie Mercury Had A Secret Childhood Obsession – And It Offers An Intriguing Insight Into The Star

It’s fair to say that the late great Freddie Mercury lived life to the fullest. Yes, the theatrical frontman of chart-topping rock legends Queen cemented himself as a music icon the world over. However, the mustachioed singer’s humble beginnings certainly weren’t so wild. In fact, the nature of one particular hobby may even surprise you.

Now Mercury wasn’t a natural born showman. For you see, those who knew him while growing up claim that the star was relatively shy. Worse still, fellow students branded him “Bucky” in the playground due to his striking front teeth. And this made him further self conscious. Not only that, he also developed a passion as a youngster that could never be considered particularly rock and roll.

Yes, if you thought you knew everything about Freddie Mercury after watching big screen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody then think again. Here’s a look at the surprising, and not exactly cool, childhood obsession which didn’t feature in the box office phenomenon. And it’s one which puts the star in a whole new light.

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So Freddie Mercury’s road to musical greatness began when he met drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Brian May in London. Indeed, the pair belonged to a local band named Smile in the early 1970s. And inspired by watching his new pals, Mercury started performing in rock acts himself such as Sour Milk Sea. Critically perhaps, when an opportunity to join Smile came up, Mercury grabbed it with both hands.

Then known as Freddie Bulsura, Mercury decided to adopt his more familiar moniker when Smile rechristened themselves Queen. And taking influences from Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and David Bowie, the band soon caught the attention of EMI Records. Furthermore, after adding bassist John Deacon to their line-up, they released their eponymous first studio effort in 1973.

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Mind you, even during these early days Mercury was keen to make a name for himself outside the band. For instance, shortly before Queen’s debut LP hit the shelves, he released a single under the guise of “Larry Lurex”. However, double A-side “Going Back”/“I Can Hear Music” failed to connect with audiences. Undeterred, Mercury began cultivating the stage persona that would soon make everyone sit up and take notice.

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Indeed, from his trademark damaged microphone stand to his nail polish, eyeliner and Zandra Rhodes clothing, Mercury soon became unmistakable. And after developing a fan base on the live circuit across the globe, Queen finally began to achieve commercial success. In fact, both sophomore Queen II and follow-up Sheer Heart Attack performed better than the band’s debut album.

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However, the band’s real breakthrough arrived in 1975 with A Night at the Opera and its lead single, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” From then on, the quartet never looked back. Indeed, LPs such as A Day at the Races and News of the World helped to cement their seventies’ success. Mind you, the 1980s were not set to be as straightforward for the four.

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For example, by this point Mercury’s image had changed considerably, which was alarming for some fans. Yes, gone was the glam rock style that significantly helped him stand out from the crowd. And in came a look consisting of a much shorter haircut, a thick mustache and a new-found love of leather. Furthermore, Mercury also once again proved he was no ordinary rock frontman by showcasing his voice alongside the Royal Ballet.

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Despite the somewhat new territory, Queen managed to sustain their popularity throughout most of the 1980s. For you see, albums such as The Game, The Works and A Kind of Magic produced numerous hit singles. And their
iconic performance at Live Aid saw Mercury cement his reputation as one of rock music’s greatest ever frontmen. Significantly, all this boosted their credentials after a much-criticised dance album experiment in 1982 with Hot Space.

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Moving forward, Mercury chose to pursue various solo endeavors in the 1980s with mixed results. Firstly, he released his debut album, Mr. Bad Guy, which was generally well received for offering something different. Despite reservations, it still broke into the U.K. top ten, even if only at number six. And he further broke into the U.K. top 10 with a cover of The Platters’ “The Great Pretender” in 1987. Then, in 1988, he showed he still had the power to surprise with operatic sophomore Barcelona.

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Tragically, Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS around this period, too. But the star opted to keep his illness a secret from everyone but his nearest and dearest. And he continued to record with Queen, adding to their much-loved back catalog. Yes, this included the likes of The Miracle in 1989 and Innuendo in 1991.

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Sadly, Mercury never got the chance to make another record. Indeed, on November 24 1991, just 24 hours after making his AIDS diagnosis publicly known, he passed away at home. Shockingly, he was only 45 years old. However, this wasn’t the end of the Freddie Mercury story. You’ve guessed it, his surviving bandmates ensured they kept his determined spirit alive.

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For you see, Mercury’s legacy has only continued to grow in the quarter-century since his death. In fact, just six months after his passing, his Queen bandmates staged an A-list charity show at Wembley Stadium, London. Touchingly, the concert, which featured the likes of Guns N’ Roses and Elton John, raised funds for AIDS sufferers. What’s more, his composition “Bohemian Rhapsody” enjoyed a new lease of life thanks to its use in film Wayne’s World.

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And it doesn’t end there. Yes, in 1993, Mercury scored a posthumous chart-topper in the U.K. with a remix of “Living On My Own.” Then, two years later, Taylor, May and Deacon released a new Queen album, Made in Heaven. Strikingly, it was a collection of songs Mercury had begun working on shortly before his death. Furthermore, a string of re-releases and compilations in the 2000s helped many to positively reevaluate his solo efforts.

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Fast forward a little, and Mercury’s story was dramatized to widespread acclaim with the 2018 box office hit Bohemian Rhapsody. That’s right, the movie raked in an incredible $903 million across the globe. Meanwhile, Rami Malek’s portrayal of the star saw him pick up Best Actor at the Academy Awards. But although the big screen biopic portrayed Mercury as a wild and super-confident showman, things weren’t always that way.

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Indeed, Mercury’s beginnings weren’t exactly typical of a rock icon. After all, born in Zanzibar, a region in Tanzania, in 1946, he was largely raised in India. In fact, Mercury spent much of his childhood at an all-boys boarding school in Bombay. And it was here where he first began performing with some of his classmates.

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There, Mercury earned the rather unflattering nickname of Bucky due to the notable overbite caused by his upper teeth. And already self-conscious about this particular problem, the youngster initially struggled to overcome his inherent shyness. But as he began to explore his main passions, Mercury eventually began to grow in confidence.

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Yes, even at this young age, Mercury’s talents shone through. And one of his earliest bandmates later revealed that the icon was besotted with music from the Western pop world. As a result, he had an “uncanny ability to listen to the radio and replay what he heard on piano.”

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Meanwhile, Mercury’s mother Jer also spoke about her son’s prodigious talents in a 2011 interview with The Telegraph. She said, “He would write songs from an early age. Once when I went into his bedroom at our home in Feltham, I told him I was going to clear up all the rubbish including the papers under his pillow. But he said ’Don’t you dare’. He was writing little songs and lyrics then and putting them under his pillow before he slept.”

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As childhood friend Subash Shah went on to explain, Mercury’s seemingly sudden change in character was not unforeseen. Indeed, she told writer Anvar Alikhan in 2016, “Yes, Freddie was very shy. But he was also ‘a born show-off,’ and his entire personality would transform once he was performing.” Astonishingly, she recalled a beach side walk in which Mercury inspired a group of conservative Zanzibar locals to dance the twist.

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Now in a 1974 interview with Melody Maker, Mercury admitted he was a precocious child. He said, “My parents thought boarding school would do me good so they sent me to one when I was seven, dear. I look back on it and I think it was marvelous. You learn to look after yourself and it taught me to have responsibility.”

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Following a return to Zanzibar in the 1960s, Mercury left the region with his family when violent clashes escalated during the revolution. Starting afresh in the U.K., they settled in Feltham, south west London. Later on, Mercury graduated from Ealing Art College with a diploma in graphic art and design. Intriguingly, he then utilized these skills to create Queen’s famous heraldic arms.

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And while performing in some bands after graduation, Mercury worked on a Kensington Market stall as a second-hand clothes seller. To add to that, he also took a job at Heathrow Airport as a baggage handler. Moreover, far from the loud and proud showman he later became, colleagues recall him as a relatively shy individual.

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Indeed, one of his childhood obsessions – aside from music – was far more in keeping with this shy persona. Yes, believe it or not, Mercury the youngster developed a passion for collecting stamps. Remarkably, due to his family’s beliefs, his collection remains one of his few personal possessions that still exists today.

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That’s right, due to the family’s Zoroastrian religious beliefs, nearly all of Mercury’s possessions were burnt after his death. However, his beloved father Bomi chose to keep his son’s stamp collection as a memento. In fact, it was Bomi Bulsara who inspired Mercury to pursue the hobby as a nine-year-old.

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And over the next three years, Mercury compiled a collection of intriguing and unusual stamps from across the world. Now many of these stamps hail from nations which no longer exist due to the fall of the British Empire. And a significant number were collected from countries all across Eastern Europe.

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But it’s not just the stamps themselves that make Mercury’s collection particularly interesting. Perhaps you’ve guessed that the future rock icon chose to order the stamps in a particularly creative manner. Yes, some were arranged by type, size or color, while others were displayed in a pattern or letter of the alphabet.

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Thankfully, Mercury’s creative efforts in his pre-teen years didn’t all go to waste. Indeed, Bomi chose to sell his son’s stamp collection at an auction in 1993, alongside his own, for charity. And unsurprisingly, he certainly wasn’t short of high-profile bidders. Notably and perhaps fittingly, the charity that benefited from the sale was a cause close to Bomi’s heart.

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Now the collection was eventually snapped up by The Postal Museum, then the British Postal Museum and Archive. And the money that Bomi received for his son’s work went to the Mercury Phoenix Trust. As you may know, this is a charity that was set up to commemorate Freddie Mercury following his untimely death. Notably, it funds projects around the world in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

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What’s more, the collection was put on display at the museum, which also encouraged Queen fans to touch it. Now this is not usually allowed in Philatelic circles to preserve the stamps in good condition. But the museum made an exception, and according to Stamp Magazine in 1994, 825 people took part. Following the museum’s closure in 1998, Mercury’s stamp album moved to Melbourne’s World Philatelic Exhibition. And there, it apparently became an even more popular attraction than part of a display owned by The Queen herself.

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Mind you, Mercury’s association with the world of stamps didn’t end there. Yes, in 1999, Royal Mail launched a series of stamps that paid tribute to some of Britain’s most popular figures. And unsurprisingly, considering his contribution to the music scene over the course of his career, Mercury was among them. That’s right, now his face was on a stamp just like the Queen’s.

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However, not everyone was happy with this choice. According to the Associated Press, there were technical complaints about the Mercury stamp. For example, claims centered around a “rule” that only a member of the British monarchy could appear on stamps. And one columnist for the Daily Mail also took umbrage with the selection due to Mercury’s “degenerate lifestyle.”

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Surprisingly though, Mercury isn’t the only British musical legend who developed an interest in stamp collecting as a youngster. For you see, none other than John Lennon also pursued the hobby long before he co-founded The Beatles. However, as we’ll soon find out, he certainly didn’t treat his collection in quite the same way as Mercury.

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So come 2016, an exhibition in the U.K. displayed both Lennon’s and Mercury’s stamp collections next to each other. Whereas the latter was clean and well presented, Lennon’s was disheveled. Indeed, the future Beatle had doodled mustaches on several of the stamps. Humorously, not even the faces of King George VI and Queen Victoria were spared Lennon’s artistic intervention.

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Intriguingly though, Lennon may well have been more careless because he didn’t build his collection up entirely by himself. Indeed, whereas Mercury spent years sourcing stamps from corners of the globe, Lennon’s was largely inherited from his older cousin. However, the Beatle did occasionally add stamps he had removed from correspondence received from New Zealand and the U.S.

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Now one man particularly impressed by Mercury’s stamp collection was writer Simon Garfield. For example, in a passage from his 2009 book The Error World: An Affair with Stamps, he says, “His collecting level can best be described as ‘artistic,’ for he collected on unusual black album pages and designed his displays with great care for symmetry and color. On one page he used [Great Britain] stamps to spell out the letter ‘F.’”

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Unsurprisingly, Garfield wasn’t quite as enamored with Lennon’s display. He wrote, “In fact, his album, a green ‘Mercury,’ suggests his schoolboy collection was almost as poor and erratic as mine.” Furthermore, Garfield noted how many stamps had been attached with heavy glue, something ill advised when it comes to collecting.

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But despite the differences in quality, it was Lennon’s album that fetched the higher amount when it went on sale. Indeed, at a 2005 auction in London the asking price for the Lennon stamps was £29,950 (over $50,000). However, The U.K.’s Postal Museum only had to pay £3,320 (over $5,000) to purchase Mercury’s in 1993.

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Nevertheless, The Postal Museum still appears to believe it has the more valuable collection. For in 2011, it once again showcased Mercury’s stamp-collecting creativity to the public. And in an online blog post promoting the display, it wrote, “As pop memorabilia and for cultural reference, Freddie Mercury’s collection is priceless.”

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