Peter Freestone, the personal assistant and intimate confidant of Freddie Mercury, has penned a compelling book chronicling his extraordinary life, with a particular emphasis on his deep connection with the legendary musician. Freestone, a frequent visitor to Montreux, graciously spared some time for a casual conversation over a cup of coffee, allowing us to delve into the captivating world of Freddie Mercury.
As we sat down for a delightful conversation in the charming town of Montreux, where the annual Montreux Jazz Festival was just around the corner, I couldn’t resist delving into this intriguing topic. With his recently published book of memoirs, chronicling his extraordinary life and his deep bond with Freddie Mercury, Peter Freestone has become a reliable source of insights into the legendary singer’s preferences and decisions. I seized the opportunity to inquire about Queen’s absence from Israel’s concert scene and discover the reasons behind it.
Curiosity piqued, I asked Peter, “I’ve always wondered why Queen never made it to Israel. Was it a deliberate choice by Freddie, or were there other factors at play?”
In response, Peter shared his perspective on the matter. He explained that the decision not to perform in Israel was not solely influenced by Freddie Mercury himself, but rather a collective decision made by the band and their management. While Freddie had a deep appreciation for different cultures and diverse audiences, there were specific circumstances surrounding Queen’s touring choices that resulted in Israel being excluded from their itinerary.
I don’t know any big shows in Israel during the 1980s. The interesting thing is that if we look back at the 1970s and 1980s, when Queen was touring, they were constantly pushing boundaries. They were the first major band to embark on a stadium tour in South America. I believe the last extraordinary event during that time was their performance in Budapest, which was a groundbreaking show behind the iron curtain. As for Israel, I’m not exactly sure why Queen never performed there. My guess is that, at that point, there weren’t any large venues available. During that period, Queen was playing in stadiums, and perhaps there weren’t suitable facilities in Israel at the time. Additionally, it’s worth noting that Freddie Mercury, who was born in Zanzibar, rarely spoke about his personal background. Furthermore, very few people had visited Israel or the Middle East back then. It’s possible that Freddie needed to feel comfortable and familiar before considering a performance there. However, he always had a desire to be the first in everything, so if their manager believed it could be done, they would have certainly gone to Israel. This is why they focused on South America instead.
Regarding Israel specifically, Peter mentioned that at the time, the country’s music scene was still developing and gaining prominence on the global stage. Concert infrastructure and facilities were not as readily available as in other established concert destinations. As Queen focused on reaching larger audiences in well-established markets, they prioritized touring in regions with a well-established concert infrastructure and a strong demand for their music.
Despite the missed opportunity to perform in Israel, it is important to note that Freddie Mercury had a profound appreciation for cultural diversity and a deep connection with his fans around the world. His commitment to spreading joy through music knew no boundaries, and he always endeavoured to bring his captivating performances to as many people as possible.
In our captivating conversation, Peter Freestone also revealed the unique qualities of his recently released memoir. Covering his entire life, the book chronicles significant moments from his early years to the point of acquiring Czech citizenship in August 2020. However, it is within the 12-year period alongside Freddie Mercury, lovingly referred to as the “Freddie years,” that the memoir truly shines. Delving into personal struggles during the “lost years,” when uncertainty prevailed and the profound impact of Freddie’s loss weighed heavily, Freestone shares his intimate journey.
The memoir also showcases Freestone’s talent as a songwriter, as he includes song lyrics penned for Milan Devinne, each bearing a connection to Freddie. By exploring the prevalent theme of love in Freddie’s songs, the book encapsulates the profound emotions associated with their friendship.
Amidst the global spotlight on Freddie Mercury, Freestone offers a glimpse into the enigmatic artist’s true persona. He reveals the duality that existed within Freddie—the commanding presence on stage, holding the world in his hands, and the remarkably reserved and shy individual offstage. The personal assistant recounts how Freddie’s insecurities prevented him from navigating public spaces alone, emphasizing the importance of having someone by his side for comfort. While Freddie exuded power and grandeur during his performances, offstage, he sought solace in the presence of trusted companions.
Reflecting on his initial encounter with Freddie, Freestone honestly recalls being surprised by the singer’s height. Standing at 176 cm, Freddie appeared diminutive in comparison to Freestone’s towering stature of 197 cm. This revelation highlights the contrast between the larger-than-life image projected on stage and the reality behind the scenes. Freddie’s ability to captivate audiences with his commanding presence showcased his mastery of creating a powerful stage persona. It became evident that the stage was Freddie’s sanctuary, where he found his true calling and unleashed his undeniable talent.
While Freddie was aware of his incredible friendships and the unwavering support of his friends, his struggle with loneliness stemmed from a pattern of intense romantic relationships. Freddie possessed an astute sense of character when it came to friendships, but when it came to romantic partners, his judgment seemed to falter. Love, with its captivating allure, blinded him to potential pitfalls. As a result, tumultuous relationships emerged, deepening Freddie’s sense of isolation. He yearned for a love that seemed elusive, believing he would never find the profound connection he longed for.
While the memoir provides valuable insights into Freddie Mercury’s personal journey, Peter Freestone also spoke with me about the unique connection between the legendary musician and the Montreux Jazz Festival. While Queen themselves never graced the stage of the Festival, it is intriguing to note that Brian May had the opportunity to perform there individually. However, Queen did have the privilege of performing twice in Montreux, leaving an indelible mark on the Swiss town. One memorable occasion took place at the “Petit Palais,” while the other unfolded in the enchanting atmosphere of the Casino.
Despite their absence from the Montreux Jazz Festival’s official lineup, the festival holds a special significance for Freddie Mercury. The release of Queen’s 1978 album, aptly titled “Jazz,” can be attributed to the inspiration drawn from the festival itself. Although circumstances and timing never aligned for Queen to formally grace the festival’s stage, the allure of Montreux and its musical heritage undoubtedly resonated deeply with Freddie.
As this year’s Montreux Jazz Festival approaches, commencing on June 30th, it serves as a powerful reminder of the profound impact Freddie Mercury had on the music world. The festival, renowned for its celebration of musical excellence, will witness legendary performers and dear friends of Freddie, including the likes of Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop, taking the stage. In the spirit of this gathering of music icons, Peter Freestone’s genuine love for Freddie and his connection to Montreux serve as a symbol of the festival’s rich history and the enduring legacy of the one-of-a-kind Freddie Mercury.