Freddie Mercury is remembered across the world for his multi-octave vocal range, natural flamboyance and ability to command an audience like no one else. But, as it turns out, there was far more to the Queen frontman than his on-stage charisma and impressive voice. Yes, Mercury’s sexuality has long been discussed – and yet one relationship with a man would ultimately affect him like no other.
While Mercury remains notorious for his sexual exploits, one man in particular stole his heart. And yet some depictions of the legendary singer’s life have glossed over this seminal relationship. In the 2018 Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, for instance, it’s Mercury’s six-year affair with Mary Austin that takes center stage – even though he was with his most treasured boyfriend for a similar amount of time.
That man is Jim Hutton, and his relationship with Mercury would surely have provided a gold mine of emotion for script writers to dig into. After all, the half-dozen years that the couple enjoyed together were filled with love, joy – and of course, tragedy. It was Hutton, you see, who nursed the Queen singer as the AIDS virus destroyed his life. And so, here’s a deeper look at the heartbreaking love story that has often and unfairly been overlooked.
Born in the Irish town of Carlow in 1949, Hutton initially dedicated his life to religion and joined a monastic order. After a spell, though, he decided to leave his brothers behind and ultimately pursued a career in hairdressing. The Irishman was learning the tricks of the trade at London’s Savoy Hotel, in fact, when he hit the town one night and decided to stop off at the capital city’s premier gay club: Heaven. And it was there that Hutton first caught the eye of one of the biggest rock stars on the planet.
By this point, you see, Mercury had already enjoyed over a decade of success as the frontman of chart-toppers Queen. The charismatic singer co-founded the group with Roger Taylor and Brian May in 1970. And thanks to tracks such as “We Are the Champions,” “Don’t Stop Me Now” and, of course, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” in time the band reached legendary status.
But Mercury’s first words to Hutton weren’t exactly the stuff of romance. After sliding up to the Irishman at the nightclub’s bar and asking if he wanted a drink, the singer reportedly inquired about the size of his manhood. Apparently, this was how Mercury regularly approached men who attracted his attention.
Incredibly, this charming chat-up line didn’t have the desired effect. In a 2006 interview with The Sunday Times, Hutton revealed that he actually turned down Mercury’s offer of a drink. The hairdresser also admitted that he had had no idea that he’d been speaking to a world-famous rocker at the time.
But the universe seemingly had its own plan, with Hutton and Mercury bumping into each other again while out at another nightspot 18 months later. This time around, though, the hairdresser decided to take the vocalist up on his kind offer of a drink. And after hitting it off, the pair embarked on what would become a dedicated six-year relationship.
By all accounts, the romance was a whirlwind one. Within 12 months of their second nightclub meeting, Mercury and Hutton had begun living together at Garden Lodge – the singer’s south London mansion. The Irishman also worked as an odd-jobs man and tended to the grounds at Mercury’s Georgian pad. But he remained employed as a hairdresser at the Savoy Hotel, too.
Hutton was also present at the 1985 Live Aid show that cemented Mercury’s status as one of the all-time rock greats. The hairdresser told The Sunday Times that he had been gobsmacked by what he’d seen. He said, “You could feel the effect his stage presence had on the crowd. Afterwards, Elton [John] came out and said, ‘Bastard, you’ve stolen it.’”
However, as is to be expected with most relationships, things weren’t always rosy between Mercury and Hutton. The latter revealed, for instance, that the pair had once had an almighty argument after he’d spotted Mercury in the Heaven nightclub with another man. And according to Hutton, the singer had later claimed that he’d only engaged in such behavior to inspire a sense of jealousy.
And Hutton also recalled another incident which had caused tension between the couple. He told The Sunday Times, “Then one day I saw him leaving his Kensington flat with another guy, and we had an argument. I told him he had to make his mind up. And he said, ‘Okay.’ He wanted to be with me. Deep down I think that he wanted to be secure with someone who was down to earth and not impressed by who he was.”
As the decade progressed, then, the pair appeared to settle into a life of domesticity. Hutton told The Sunday Times that Mercury was nowhere near as flamboyant at home as he was on the stage. In fact, there were apparently times when the star could even be considered shy. Hutton said of Mercury, “He loved his cats. I’d get in from work, [and] we’d lie together on the sofa. He would massage my feet and ask about my day.”
With same-sex marriage still very much against the law in Britain during the 1980s, Hutton and Mercury weren’t ever able to officially declare themselves husbands. But the rock icon reportedly referred to his lover in such terms behind closed doors. And the pair also showed their commitment to their partnership by continually wearing wedding bands.
Of course, the couple were dealt a tragic blow in 1987, when Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS. The Queen frontman subsequently assured Hutton that he would entirely understand if he wanted to jump ship. But according to the Daily Beast, the Irishman replied, “Don’t be stupid. I’m not going anywhere. I’m here for the long haul.”
And Hutton revealed that Mercury was determined to not to let his illness beat him. The hairdresser said, “His attitude was ‘life goes on.’ He took AZT and nearly every other drug available. The doctors came to the house to treat him.” In fact, Mercury even defied the advice of medical experts in order to continue with his career, filming the video for “Barcelona” against their wishes, for example.
What’s more, despite Mercury’s obvious weight loss, he persisted with refuting claims that he was dying from the AIDS virus. This stance drew fire from some who believed that the singer’s high-profile status could have helped to heighten awareness of the illness. However, Hutton revealed that Mercury felt it wasn’t anyone else’s business.
In fact, Mercury also kept quiet about his sexuality throughout his career for the same reason. Hutton told The Sunday Times, “He might have worried about how coming out would have affected him professionally, but he didn’t say that. We both thought our relationship – and being gay – was our business.”
Unfortunately, there came a time when it was clear to both Mercury and his nearest and dearest that the end was near. Hutton said, “I noticed how skeletal he’d become only on the morning of his last birthday. Maybe I was in denial. But I think Freddie knew when it was the time to let go. He decided to come off his medication three weeks before he died.”
Meanwhile, Hutton helped to nurse Mercury as his condition deteriorated. And several of the star’s close friends, including his assistant, Peter Freestone, and his chef, Joe Fanelli, also took turns caring for him. Plus, the Irishman told The Sunday Times that he had shared his last conversation with the singer just days before his death.
Hutton told the British newspaper of his last interaction with Mercury, “It was 6:00 a.m. He wanted to look at his paintings. ‘How am I going to get downstairs?’ he asked. ‘I’ll carry you,’ I said. But he made his own way, holding on to the banister. I kept in front to make sure he didn’t fall.”
“I brought a chair to the door, sat him in it and flicked on the spotlights – which lit each picture,” Hutton continued. “He said, ‘Oh they’re wonderful.’ I carried him upstairs to bed. He said, ‘I never realized you were as strong as you are.’” And the hairdresser went on to describe the very day that Mercury passed away.
Hutton said, “He was dosed [up] on morphine and in Neverland. He wet himself. I knew that if he woke up and saw that, there’d be blue murder, so we changed his underwear. While I was putting his boxers on, I knew he’d gone. I went into my bedroom and stopped a carriage clock Freddie had given to me; the time was 12 minutes to 7.”
Just 24 hours before his death, Mercury apparently wrote a statement in which he declared his AIDS illness. However, Hutton apparently believes that the star’s manager, Jim Beach, was responsible for the official note. The Irishman claimed that Mercury had been in no fit state to pen such a revelation and that he prided himself on keeping his personal life to himself.
Mercury left nearly $1 million in his will to Hutton, who spent the hefty sum on homes in London’s Shepherd’s Bush district and his Irish homeland. The hairdresser had apparently wanted to remain in the Garden Lodge mansion that he’d shared with Mercury for several years. However, the Queen frontman had actually left the property to his former girlfriend Mary Austin, who allegedly wasted little time in telling Hutton to pack up his things.
Mercury had started dating Austin in the early 1970s – just as Queen’s popularity was beginning to take off. The pair lived together in the London district of West Kensington for a number of years before the singer informed her of his bisexuality in 1976. Mercury subsequently left the pair’s flat and later purchased a home for Austin to call her own.
And although Mercury and Austin’s romantic relationship had ended, they continued to enjoy an intimate friendship up until the singer’s death in 1991. In fact, Mercury regularly claimed that Austin was the only real friend that he’d ever had. He also penned several tracks inspired by her – including “Love of My Life.”
Mercury further explained how much Austin meant to him in a 1985 interview with People magazine. He said, “All my lovers asked me why they couldn’t replace Mary [Austin], but it’s simply impossible. The only friend I’ve got is Mary, and I don’t want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage. We believe in each other – that’s enough for me.”
Austin was undoubtedly a major part of Mercury’s eventful life. But some viewers of the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody felt that the star’s relationship with her takes too much precedence over his partnership with Hutton. Empire’s Olly Richards, for instance, wrote in 2018, “There are some poor, strange choices when deciding where to focus. Not least [is] committing so much time to [Mercury’s] relationship with Mary Austin and virtually none to any happy gay relationship – romantic or otherwise.”
And Vox’s Aja Romano was even more scathing. The critic wrote in January 2019, “Bohemian Rhapsody is a movie that consciously tries to position a gay man at its center while strategically disengaging with the ‘gay’ part as much as it can.” Romano went on to condemn the film for “flitting briefly over [Mercury’s] emotional and sexual experiences and fixating on his platonic relationship with an ex-girlfriend instead.”
Meanwhile, Bohemian Rhapsody also faced accusations of taking artistic license with several real-life events. Instead of depicting Hutton and Mercury’s first encounter at gay nightclub Heaven, for instance, the movie sees them meeting at a party where the former is working as a server. And unlike the film purports, Mercury wasn’t introduced to Austin on the exact same evening that he became a member of Queen.
What’s more, some viewers also objected to the way in which the movie handles Mercury’s HIV diagnosis. In the film, the frontman – portrayed by Rami Malek – informs the rest of his Queen bandmates about his illness shortly before Live Aid in 1985. But in reality, Mercury learned that he had the virus a year later at the earliest, and he only told May, Taylor and Deacon about it in 1989.
But while Bohemian Rhapsody’s timeline and events may have been fudged a little, Hutton’s sympathetic depiction is certainly true to life, according to the man who played him. Indeed, Aaron McCusker told The Irish Independent in 2019, “Anyone interviewed about him, anything I’ve read about the people who knew him personally – nobody had a bad thing to say about him.”
McCusker – who’s also appeared in the likes of Shameless, Dexter and Fortitude – also believes that Hutton’s relationship with Mercury was undoubtedly the real thing. The actor added, “He really calmed [Mercury] down; he was a really good influence on him. He wasn’t with him for the fame and fortune. It was genuine love.”
Sadly, Hutton found out that he, too, had the HIV virus. The Irishman was first tested for the illness in 1990, although he didn’t inform Mercury about his diagnosis until 12 months later, following another positive test result. But unlike the Queen frontman, Hutton went on to live with the condition for another two decades.
Three years on from Mercury’s death, Hutton penned a book about his relationship with the late rock icon. Mercury and Me also featured a whole host of informal and previously unpublished photographs of the pair. And according to site Refinery29, Hutton gave a heartbreaking reason when he was asked about why he had decided to write the memoir: “To ease the pain.”
In 1995 Hutton was relaxing at home during the Christmas holidays when he heard the sound of the carriage clock that Mercury had given to him. And the hairdresser took this as a “sign it was time to move on.” He subsequently began taking medicine to help control his HIV illness and relocated to his Irish homeland.
There, Hutton began working alongside his brother as a handyman and woodworker. He told The Sunday Times that he’d had a few short-term relationships since Mercury’s death. Apparently, there was also a longer-term lover, but the individual had struggled being with a man once been so heavily involved with a rock god.
When asked what he remembered most about Mercury, Hutton replied, “His impish smile when you’d give him a gift. He would be as happy with 60 roses as 60 Picassos. His face really would light up. One Christmas I created a mountain-scene train set. [Queen’s] Roger Taylor and Brian May came over, and all three of them played with it – three big, hairy kids.”
Sadly, just four years after his interview with The Sunday Times, Hutton passed away on New Year’s Day – just a few days short of turning 61. But contrary to early reports, AIDS wasn’t responsible for the Irishman’s death. Instead, Hutton actually lost his life due to complications from lung cancer – a tragic end to a moving love story.