I Want To Break Free
Or how being the daughter of a tyrant took me to the top
I went to see the new Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, last week with my other half. At the end of the film – as I sniffled the obligatory end-of-movie tears into my coat lapel – they asked me, “are you all right?”
The film taught me that Freddie Mercury was both a lonely man and a visionary. He had a very troubled relationship with not only himself, but his band Queen for his ‘maverick’ behaviours. Yet it was not the tragic plight of the man himself that actually made me cry. I’m not ashamed to say that it was something much more elemental than that.
No spoilers, but the film is bookended with Remi Malek’s amazing impersonation of Freddie at the 1985 Live Aid concert. And as the closing moments of the film rolled, it was this memory of Live Aid that set me off. Because I’d had a ticket to the now legendary concert (which, to this day, holds the record for the biggest worldwide audience of a live event of all time). And I wasn’t allowed to go.
Live Aid was the perfect representation of what I could realistically call ‘my time’. The mid-1980s were filled with culture that changed the whole way I looked at the world. The pop bands of the time – David Bowie, U2, Elton John, Ultravox, Spandau Ballet and, of course, Queen, to name a few. They sounded like nothing that had really come before and they were positive and danceable and filled me with excitement as a young kid, in my teens. The idea of attending Wembley Stadium to see such a perfect line-up was almost beyond comprehension.
My biological father, however, was not a good man. I don’t even remember what went down between us that led to him taking that amazing privilege away from me. But it was quite a typical occurrence that he did. My sister had queued all night for the tickets. And I still remember the moment she came home and waved them in the air triumphantly – the holy grail, located, secured and returned. We were beyond excited, but it was not to be. At least not for me. A harshly worded encounter with this most confrontational of men led to him gleefully sending my sister off on the train to London with a friend, who took my ticket. And I was forced to sit at home and watch the event in a pool of understandable self-pity from my bedroom.
Teenagers don’t really understand why bad things happen to them – they just know that they hurt a lot. And they often look for meaning where there really isn’t any. The truth of the matter is that my father was quite simply a bit of a mean human. And he probably enjoyed seeing me miss out on the one thing he knew would light up my childhood. But it’s only with the 20:20 hindsight of a woman approaching middle age that I’m able to see that. I have no self-pity about that moment left in me, make no mistake. And it’s only a strange, negative nostalgia that took me back to that moment from my childhood, which seemed to mean so much at the time. So powerful. So symbolic. So indicative of the future that would unfurl between us.
But something came alive in me last week, as I watched Bohemian Rhapsody. I saw Freddie Mercury – a man at the absolute pinnacle of his professional game; beloved the world over – tortured by the secrecy of his inner life. And I thought of all the fears and paranoia that I had held so closely to my chest at that time. And of having a father who took pleasure in putting me (and my mother and siblings) down. And how I had actually had a chance to confront and get over those fears in way that poor Freddie never did. By the time he died, Freddie Mercury was still dealing with the judgement of the media, his bandmates and his family. He still had to answer for his perfectly unremarkable lifestyle choices in a way that, in 2018, would be seen as plain unacceptable.
I, however, feel so fortunate that I was able to come to terms with the mind games and emotional torture that my father put me through as a young woman. Every put-down led to an action that drove me further toward my goal of achieving something meaningful in life. In many ways, you might say that I have the mean old sod to thank for my career. And the fact that I’ve gone farther than I might ever have without such a negative example to battle against. Ha! I would never have imagined myself writing those words, oh, just fifteen years ago, prior to his death!
When he did die, I made sure I went to see my father, to pay my respects and ensure that there was nothing ‘left’ inside that I hadn’t already dealt with. I’m glad to report that there wasn’t. As he left this earth, I actually felt a sense of closure and relief that it was over. I count my lucky stars every day for the fact that I was able to process and deal with this in my own time and my own way. Unlike poor Freddie, whose personal life was nothing if not constantly under the microscope.
Of course, I’m no Freddie Mercury. I can’t sing and I’m not really big on public speaking. For a woman who runs a successful advertising agency, I’m rather uncharacteristically reclusive, in fact, and tend to shy away from the limelight. I’m actually only writing this blog after years of coercion from various parties who seem to think that some of you people might want to read the ramblings of a madwoman, ha ha. But I definitely do identify with the idea that, whatever your chosen profession, you have to present a version of yourself to the world that might not reflect the person on the inside. And, for that, I think Freddie Mercury was (and remains) one of the most influential and inspirational people ever to have an impact upon my generation.
I can’t recommend the film highly enough.