Freddie's Archive: A Legacy in Objects

Freddie's Archive: A Legacy in Objects

Queen's official archivist, Greg Brooks, surveys the objects in Crazy Little Things, and discusses Freddie Mercury's lifelong passion for collecting beautiful objects.
Queen's official archivist, Greg Brooks, surveys the objects in Crazy Little Things, and discusses Freddie Mercury's lifelong passion for collecting beautiful objects.

I n April of this year, some 47 years into my love affair with Queen and Freddie Mercury’s voice, and 26 years into my time as the band’s archivist, suddenly came the news that many amazing treasures I never imagined I’d see in my lifetime were to be seen in public for the first time. Homing in on just the career-related elements for a moment, I had long suspected that somewhere in his beautiful home there must surely exist significant items spanning Freddie’s illustrious recording career, but there had never been confirmation of that and thus my guess could be no better than anyone else’s. Now, it is confirmed that Freddie did indeed retain historically important Queen artefacts, and, since his passing in 1991, they’ve resided in Mary’s care inside the house of which he was so proud.

The scale of the collection far exceeds anything anyone could have anticipated. Suddenly there is an opportunity, in theory at least, for any lifelong Freddie devotee to own a little piece of the great man’s history. There are 1,500 lots, covering several thousand objects. I was stunned by these revelations and, as more details emerge, I find myself overwhelmed at the extent of it. If Freddie were around today, he’d likely quip, “The bigger the better, darling, in everything!”

"In order to produce the kind of multifaceted, hugely complex songs that he conceived, it required an extreme degree of perfectionism... He applied the same mentality to collecting"
Greg Brooks

In fact, if Freddie were around today, I imagine I might have sat with him in my capacity as an archivist to describe various items for the auction catalogue and for this book. His patience would have faded quickly, no doubt, spanning no more than the first 20 lots, but what a wonderful afternoon it would have been. There are certain things in the sale that I would have dearly loved to talk to him about, particularly the song lyrics and the words he didn’t use, as much as the ones he did. It’s hard to know where to begin and where to stop with nostalgia of this magnitude that is of such huge significance to the Queen story and legacy.

One of the most fascinating lots is Freddie’s original early drawings and designs for the iconic Queen crest logo. I never expected such treasures to have survived, but then again, given Freddie’s love of art and design, perhaps it was predictable. I wonder how many versions he toyed with before he was ultimately satisfied with what has become so familiar to fans since 1973, when it first emerged on Queen’s debut album.

How strange, too, that these evocative relics are 50 years old this year. The Sotheby’s auction is the most fantastically exciting prospect I could have dreamed of… short of Freddie resurrecting himself to attend in person and imploring the auctioneer to “Just get on with it!”

To list all the things that interested or inspired Freddie, that he admired and/or collected, would run in to the thousands. He loved Aretha Franklin, John Lennon, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Frédéric Chopin, opera, Earl Grey tea, Stolichnaya vodka, Cristal Champagne and (most especially) the succession of cats he devoted himself to. He was a man of impeccable taste with a discerning eye and he loved to collect beautiful items.

Over his lifetime of travelling the world, always with a trusted companion (never alone), and most notably with his beloved bandmates, Freddie amassed wonderful objects to surround himself with. Indeed, there might have been many more things, had he not employed a certain person at Garden Lodge he once mentioned during an interview: “I have a cleaning lady that comes in who sometimes breaks the odd treasured ornament. If she’d been around in Louis XIV’s time, there wouldn’t be any antiques left.”


Just to see Freddie’s collection, the nearest thing to walking through his house, will be prize enough for most people, but to have the chance to purchase an object that meant something to him, albeit one of the more modest lots, wasn’t even on the distant radar for most. When I first saw that the list of handwritten lyrics that spanned all the earliest albums, as far back as the early 1970s Trident days, included so many of my own personal favourite Freddie compositions, I was genuinely speechless.

In spite of those years telling the world that his songs were like disposable razors, to be consumed and then thrown away, it transpires that Freddie knew their value all along, how greatly loved, cherished and globally revered they were, and always will be. Of course he did. Those beautifully crafted songs, so many and varied, were not remotely the transient, fleeting, disposable commodities he would have us believe. The truth is that he kept all the work in progress safely stashed away because he was greatly proud of them.


Freddie loved the thrill of the auction room chase and he wouldn’t have wanted to miss this, the auction of all auctions. Perhaps he would have been shocked at the global interest in the collection right now. He’d be pleased, of course, and he may even have offered us further details of this seldom-publicised side of his nature.

“I love it. It’s part of my nature. I thrive on it. I am not afraid to spend my money. Sometimes I could go to Cartier, the jewellers, and buy up the whole shop. Often my sprees begin just like a woman buying herself a new hat to cheer herself up. Some days, when I’m really fed up, I just want to lose myself in my money. I work up a storm and just spend and spend.

Then I get back home and think, ‘Oh God! What have I bought?’ But it’s never a waste.” The auctions cover nearly every aspect of Freddie’s life. My principal interest is, of course, anything associated with the recording and performing career, but I’m also interested in learning more about the paintings, prints and ornaments Freddie enjoyed. There will be countless surprises along the way and works of art that few people will have predicted would appeal to the Freddie Mercury they thought they knew.

I share Freddie’s fascination with Japan. I’ve always been amused by the stories of his Japanese shopping escapades and the masses of giant wooden crates he had shipped back to London after each trip.

There are various items of jewellery in the sale, and though Freddie was never one to be a show-off in that respect, he did enjoy buying his closest friends jewellery.

“I get an awful lot of pleasure out of giving presents. I’m not afraid to squander money in terms of giving it to other people. I love buying gifts for friends. That’s the biggest thrill. I don’t like hogging it all. Money may not be able to buy happiness, but it can damn well give it!”

It is rather endearing to see that items such as cat ornaments have made the sale as well. Freddie adored his cats and made no secret of it. He even wrote a song named after one, Delilah, on the last album completed in his lifetime, Innuendo.

He was photographed with his cats many times and made frequent references to them. When he was away on tour with Queen, he would often ring home and ask for one of the cats to be put on the line.

By his own admission, Freddie was easily distracted and could never sit still for long enough to focus on a book, not like he could a classic movie, such as his favourite Some Like It Hot. He said there were always a million other things he’d rather be doing. I can, however, I imagine him taking time out on a quiet Sunday afternoon, glass of champagne in hand, in the Japanese garden with his cats all around, perusing these Fantastic Four comics.

Freddie appreciated anything creative and original, and these stories certainly fall into that category. Perhaps he even took inspiration for a song lyric from one of the pictures inside, just as he did in 1973 with Richard Dadd’s entrancing masterpiece The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke, the painting that inspired Freddie’s song of the same name – as you will see in the auction.

Lastly, on the subject of Freddie’s magnificent home and the antiques he and Mary, and Peter Freestone, acquired for it, I recall an interview with Mary in which she told a lovely story about Freddie asking her to attend an auction on his behalf (he was abroad with Queen) to bid on an old clock he’d spotted in a catalogue. When she first saw the clock, it was in a poor state, barely recognisable as the treasure it once was, beneath rust, oil and dirt, and she wondered if it was the right item. She called Freddie and he confirmed it was. Mary duly acquired the clock and thought no more about this rather strange acquisition until the day when it came back from restoration as a beautiful item with meticulous decoration. Mary explained that Freddie had seen past the superficial damage to what was hidden beneath; the piece’s true potential. He could see what others could not.

"These auctions offer a rare and fascinating window into the world that meant everything to him, and which he kept so private"
Greg Brooks

I have never forgotten that story. It says so much about Freddie’s nature and about his uncommon eye for detail. I think that, in order to produce the kind of multifaceted and hugely complex songs that he conceived, it required an extreme degree of perfectionism. Freddie applied that mentality to collecting antiques and seeking only the very best pieces every bit as much as he did to recording his music and performing on stage.

These auctions, presenting a considerable proportion of the treasures Freddie amassed during his extraordinary life, offer a rare and fascinating window into the world that meant everything to him and which he kept so private. A privileged few people have seen these things until now, the hidden aspects of the man and his private life that most of us thought we were never destined to see. Indeed, some of us may even own a little piece of Freddie’s man-made paradise before the year is out. Who could have possibly have foreseen that!

Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own

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