"He engaged the whole world": Brian May and the creators of Freddie Mercury's blue plaque on his childhood home in London

By Ben Miller | 01 September 2016

Freddie Mercury’s former Queen bandmate, Brian May, and artists Frank and Sue Ashworth on the newly unveiled blue plaque at the star’s childhood home

A photo of the singer freddie mercury, of the band queen, in profile
Freddie Mercury posing as Jimi Hendrix with a borrowed Fender Telecaster, photographed in his bedroom by a friend in 1968© Courtesy English Heritage
Freddie Mercury’s parents, Jer and Bomi Bulsara, bought a modest inter-war terrace house in Feltham as their family home in autumn 1964. Jer already had a sister living in the area, so the family moved into number 22 Gladstone Avenue.

The house only had one bathroom, which annoyed Freddie’s sister, Kashmira, when he spent hours grooming his hair. As a 17-year-old, Freddie took an A-level in art at Isleworth Polytechnic, followed by a Diploma in Graphic Art and Design at Ealing College of Art.

He held a variety of jobs, including washing dishes in the kitchens at nearby Heathrow Airport.

A photo of the singer freddie mercury, of the band queen, in profile
In 1963, with Zanzibar heading for independence from the British, the Bulsara family decided to leave. It was Freddie who pressed for the family to move to England rather than return to India, despite mother Jer’s cautions that there would be no servants, and the family would have to ‘work hard’. Freddie won, and the Bulsaras moved to Feltham, Middlesex© Courtesy English Heritage
Brian May: “This is very strange for me. I met Freddie and his mum and dad here 50 years ago.

The last thing on earth we would have thought would be that I would be here at this point commemorating a blue plaque to my friend’s memory. He should still be here, still creating.

Roger [Taylor] and I met Freddie, first of all, because he was one of the best friends of our singer in a group called Smile. We met him at Ealing Tech, where Freddie was studying graphic design.

A photo of the singer freddie mercury, of the band queen, in profile
© Courtesy Universal
He spent all his time drawing pictures of Jimi Hendrix and a few other people. I came here and I distinctly remember walking in the gate and going into his little room where he had a Dansette record player, an auto changer.

The vinyl records that went on it were quite magical. I distinctly remember him putting the record on – it was a Jimi Hendrix record, I think it was Axis: Bold As Love – and he goes ‘Brian, Brian, Brian, listen, listen, listen.’ And I go, ‘yes, it’s Jimi Hendrix, we love Jimi Hendrix, he’s magic.’

And he goes, ‘no, no – listen to what they do in the production. See this guitar comes around here and if you come around to this speaker it comes around here. They’re panning it around, they’re moving it around. This is the kind of thing we have to do, this is what we’re gonna do.’

A photo of the singer freddie mercury, of the band queen, in profile
© Courtesy Universal
And at that time I thought, ‘well, can you sing?’ We had no idea – we’d seen Freddie in the very early stages where he ran around a lot and was a big, declamatory star, but he didn’t do much singing.

He did a lot of wonderful posing around and some rather kind of excited, shouty kind of singing, but you couldn’t imagine that this person was going to become the wonderful, glittering and superbly controlled performer that Freddie became.

As boys, Freddie and myself, Roger and John conquered the world in a way that was way beyond even our wildest dreams. We became woven into people’s lives.

A photo of the singer freddie mercury, of the band queen, in profile
© Courtesy Universal
Sometimes I get up in the morning and think ‘how on earth did that happen?’ I’m a Feltham boy, too – I live about 300 yards away.

As kids we grew up here but we didn’t know each other until we were introduced by Tim, our singer at Ealing Tech. We were neighbours and didn’t know it.

I remember a very shy boy, in the beginning. He was kind of embarrassed that he was still living with his mum at the time I met him because we were all big boys at college.

A photo of the singer freddie mercury, of the band queen, in profile
© Courtesy Universal
He would spend a lot of time just sleeping on people’s floors because he wanted to feel that he’d broken away. He had an extraordinary talent from the beginning. I’d been funny about it but he had this amazing capacity from the off of going on to a stage and engaging people, making people feel that they had a contact, making people excited.

We knew that he was something very special. He was the kind of person who made people feel that they could do it too, that’s the way I feel about Freddie. Every guy or girl at the back of Wembley Stadium, when we played there, felt that he represented them and their dreams.

Freddie was one million percent dedicated to his art. He engaged the whole world, I think.”

A photo of the singer freddie mercury, of the band queen, in profile
© Courtesy Universal
Frank and Sue Ashworth are the skilful artists who made the plaque at their studio and home in Cornwall.

Frank: “Freddie Mercury was a very special person and I certainly think he deserves a plaque. Making a plaque is quite a complicated and difficult process.

You have to discipline yourself to a certain concentration. It’s satisfying to organise a process that can lead to success.

I think of the person who’s being commemorated and I find it interesting that they lived in such-and-such a house. I try to visualise, in my mind, what sort of person they were and what they would think about a plaque being put up for them.

A photo of the singer freddie mercury, of the band queen, in profile
© Courtesy Universal
The most enjoyable part is opening up the kiln and finding it intact. When I walk along the London streets and come across a blue plaque I look at it and it gives me quite a tingle to think that I was involved in making that.”

Sue: “I think the most special thing is that one is involved in this very careful process to try to do something worthy of the people who have brought it to attention.

I do enjoy working in my own time, not being under pressure. The pressure comes from finishing the execution while the clay is still in the right condition.

A photo of the singer freddie mercury, of the band queen, in profile
© Courtesy English Heritage
I think Frank rightly enjoys the sort of scientific challenge of sorting out these problems – it is problem solving, in one way. Part of me thinks back to scribes, illuminators, people who really had enormous pride and satisfaction in doing lettering to their very best. It requires a good eye and enormous patience.

When I walk past a building with one of our plaques on, I get that little surprise and think ‘my goodness, we made that.’”

  • This year marks the 150th anniversary of the English Heritage London Blue Plaques scheme. It is generously supported by David Pearl, the Blue Plaques Club, and members of the public.

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