Next month, BBC Two will broadcast Freddie Mercury: The Final Act – the story of the extraordinary final chapter of Freddie Mercury’s life and the journey leading up to The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium...
Thirty years after Freddie Mercury died (in November 1991) from complications of AIDS, a new documentary, Freddie Mercury: The Final Act, captures the last years of his life. The film follows the story from Freddie’s last concert to the tribute concert itself which took place on April 20th 1992. The documentary features new interviews with many of those who were closest to him, including Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor, Freddie’s sister Kashmira Bulsara, his friends Anita Dobson and David Wigg and his PA, Peter Freestone.
We also hear from those who performed at the epic gig, including Gary Cherone (Extreme), Roger Daltrey (The Who), Joe Elliott (Def Leppard), Lisa Stansfield, and Paul Young, as well as the concert’s promoter, Harvey Goldsmith.
The film also hears from those who saw the impact of HIV/AIDS first hand, either as medical practitioners, survivors, or human rights campaigners, including Peter Tatchell. It starts in 1986, as Queen’s Magic tour reaches its awesome climax at Knebworth Stadium in Hertfordshire and Freddie Mercury proves himself to be one of the greatest rock performers that the world has known.
Speaking in the programme, Brian May says: “Freddie opened up his heart and gave it everything he had. He was a musician through and through and through. He lived for his music. He loved his music, and he was proud of himself as a musician above everything else.”
Over the next few years however, he would secretly battle HIV/AIDS - a disease that was killing millions and intensifying homophobia.
In the tragic aftermath of Freddie’s death, his bandmates Brian May and Roger Taylor, along with Queen’s manager Jim Beach, devised a plan. They approached a range of stellar artists including Elton John, David Bowie and Annie Lennox and decided to commemorate their friend’s life with what would become one of the biggest concerts in history.
The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was attended by over 70,000 people, with over a billion viewers on television. With one collective voice, for four glorious hours, the concert not only celebrated Freddie, but it also placed HIV/AIDS clearly in the spotlight and raised awareness of the disease.
About the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS at the time, Roger Taylor says: “We were very angry and we had to stick up for our friend - our best friend. I became fixated with the idea of giving him a hell of a send-off.”
Freddie Mercury: The Final Act is a story about friendship, love and a fight against prejudice – shown by the way in which Freddie’s friends created a joyful celebration of his life, which not only burnished his reputation as one of the world’s great musical performers, but which also helped change social attitudes.
The director of the documentary, James Rogan, said: “Making Freddie Mercury: The Final Act has been an extraordinary journey into the final chapter of one of rock music's greatest icons. Working with Queen and getting to see behind-the-scenes of some of their greatest performances and the legendary Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was a rare privilege. Equally important was speaking to the people who had lived through the eye of the storm of the global pandemic of HIV/AIDS, with all its resonances with COVID today. Freddie's death and the Tribute that Queen organised for him helped to change global awareness of this terrible disease at a critical time.”
To accompany Freddie: The Final Act, BBC Two will also show Queen at the BBC in November. Queen at the BBC is a one-hour special, featuring some of the greatest musical moments from Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon that have been shown on the BBC over the years. The legendary band’s huge international status and punishing touring schedules meant they made surprisingly few appearances on programmes like Top of the Pops and frustratingly for fans, several of those performances were lost or never recorded.
This collection celebrates the very best of what’s survived from one of most enduring and best-loved acts in British rock – and perhaps the most charismatic and best-loved frontman of all time.
Amongst the gems are moments from the band’s celebrated 1975 concert at Hammersmith Odeon, London and highlights from the prestigious Montreux Pop Festival, where Freddie and the boys showed the rest how live performance was done. Songs in this programme include the band’s first ever UK hit, Seven Seas of Rye, These Are The Days of Our Lives and Bohemian Rhapsody - frequently voted the nation’s favourite song.
Freddie Mercury: The Final Act is produced by Rogan Productions. Directed by James Rogan, Executive Producers are Mark Hedgecoe, Soleta Rogan and Simon Lupton. The producer is Dan Hall. It was commissioned by Owen Courtney, Commissioning Executive, BBC Music.