Review: Music: Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography by Leslie-Ann Jones
Hodder & Stoughton,€14.99
Published 08/10/2011 | 05:00
If you were around in 1985 and in possession of a television, the chances are you were one of the 1.9 billion that bore witness to the piece of rock history that was Live Aid.
If you were luckier still, you might have been one of the 80,000 sweltering in the July sun with their hands in the air for 'Radio Ga Ga' as Queen delivered the performance of their lives.
But there's one man for whom the day was extra special. Live Aid was the first concert Carlow man Jim Hutton had ever been to. And the man strutting the stage in a white vest and tight jeans was his lover, Freddie Mercury.
Afterwards, while everyone else pursued the staple '80s diet of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll at the show's raucous after-party, Freddie and Jim slipped home to watch TV.
"When it was over, he seemed glad it was done," Leslie-Ann Jones quotes Hutton as saying. "We did stay until the end to catch up with everyone, but Freddie didn't want to bother with the after-show party at Legends nightclub. Instead, we went home to Garden Lodge like an old married couple, to watch the American leg on television."
Just six years later, it was Hutton who was with Mercury when he died from an AIDs-related illness at their London home. He was the Queen frontman's last lover, but as Jones's book explores, the relationship was far from the 'old married couple' idyll Hutton describes.
Mercury liked his men "chunky and hunky", the less refined the better. Hutton fit the mould. The buff barber was one of 10 children born to a baker and raised in a tiny two-bedroom council house in Carlow.
He was cutting hair for £70 a week in the Savoy Hotel when he met Mercury in Heaven nightclub in 1985. Despite the singer not physically being his type, he was wooed by Mercury and his somewhat direct chat-up line enquiring the size of, well, you can guess.
Soon Hutton was smitten. He said: "I fell in love with so much about him, regardless of what he did for a living. He had big brown eyes and an almost childlike personality."
How Mercury felt is less clear. He started the affair to make his German lover, Winfried Kirchberger, jealous, flying Hutton out to Munich where he lived at the time and parading him in front of Kirchberger before sending him home, often the same day.
Added into the mix was a third (and female) lover, Barbara Valentin. Valentin, who often lived with the pair once Mercury moved Hutton into his London home, is dismissive of the barber.
"Jim was a puppet on a string," she says. "He was shoved around like a monkey. He'd do anything Freddie said. It was always on Freddie's terms and Jim came running, every time. It was quite pathetic."
The picture painted by Jones certainly isn't the domestic scene that Hutton's own 1994 memoir recalled.
The Irishman is branded "no more than a servant" by Valentin, tending the grounds and looking after the cats and fish. When Mercury's parents came to visit, he was introduced as the gardener.
After Mercury's death it was the singer's first love, Mary Austin, who took the role of widow and days after the cremation she unceremoniously booted Hutton out of the house he called home for six years without even his belongings.
But some of the Mercury camp maintain it was true love between the pair. Hutton may not have been wildly exciting -- by his own admission he "hasn't much of a character" -- but it transpired that stability may have been the one thing Mercury craved.
He's quoted as saying: "I'm very happy with my relationship at the moment. . . we won't call it menopause! I don't have to try so hard. I don't have to prove myself now. I've got a very understanding relationship. It sounds so boring, but it's wonderful."
Certainly the author, a former rock critic who toured with Queen, is convinced Mercury's last love was the real thing.
Hutton died on New Year's Day last year. He had tested HIV- positive in 1990 but it was lung cancer that killed him just three days short of his 61st birthday.
Jones travelled to his home in Carlow, built with the £500,000 left to him by Mercury, and from speaking to him she insists: "I was in no doubt that the love Jim claimed to have felt for Freddie was genuine."
As an accepted part of Queen's inner circle, Jones's voice carries an authority throughout the book, one of several publications released this year to coincide with the band's 40th anniversary.
Chapter by chapter, she details their slow but steady rise to fame and their lead singer's descent into dangerous pleasure-seeking excesses.
She doesn't shy away from Mercury's often 'colourful' lifestyle. This was, after all, a man who once declared: "Darling, I'm doing everything with everyone," and while Hutton was the last, he was by no means Mercury's only lover.
The book contains interviews with 100 people over a mind-boggling range. From Freddie's closest friends to the sound engineer at Band Aid (responsible for making Queen louder than the other bands) and second cousins halfway round the world, an intimate portrait emerges of the singer.
What makes it so intriguing is that so many interviewees appear to be talking about a completely different person. Hutton remembers his lover as "vulnerable"; Valentin says he was strong.
Some remember him as sweet, shy and effeminate. Others say he had a terrible temper and the strength of a wrestler. Ultimately it's left up to the reader to filter through the stories and decide who was the real Freddie Mercury and who was the Great Pretender.