My history hero: Aled Jones chooses Freddie Mercury (1946–91)
Chosen by singer and broadcaster Aled Jones. “The songs he wrote were iconic and will live forever, just like the Beatles’. He was one of the greatest live performers – the sparks seemed to fly out of him,” says Jones
Freddie Mercury was the lead singer of rock band Queen who sold more than 150 million records worldwide. Born in Zanzibar to Parsi parents, he moved to London in his teens and studied art before co-founding Queen. The group scored a string of hits including Bohemian Rhapsody, We Will Rock You and Radio Ga Ga, and stole the show at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium. He died at 45 from an Aids-related illness.
When did you first hear about Freddie Mercury?
As a young chorister at Bangor Cathedral, Wales. The older choristers were always going on about Queen's music. I'd never heard of them and thought, 'What, Her Majesty the Queen?' Then I got to hear some of their albums, and as soon as I had some money went to WHSmith, a five-minute walk from the cathedral, and bought my very first record, Queen's Greatest Hits. I learnt every word to every song and have been a fan of Freddie's ever since.
What kind of person was he?
I’ve read a lot of books about Queen over the years and, by the sound of it, Freddie certainly lived life to the full. He also put heart and soul into a piece of music and could really belt out a tune. But there was also a caring side to the man privately that we don’t hear so much about – he was obviously a man with a massive heart.
What made Freddie a hero?
Firstly, the songs that he wrote with Queen, such as the nearly six-minute epic Bohemian Rhapsody and We Are the Champions. These are iconic and will live forever, just like the Beatles' songs. Secondly, he was one of the greatest live performers, and could wow an audience, no matter how big the venue – the sparks seemed to fly out of him. Thirdly, his vocal range and power – he could sing rock songs and ballads but also hold his own alongside an opera star like Montserrat Caballé, as he did on the song Barcelona.
What was his finest hour?
There were so many. Bohemian Rhapsody, for a start. When I heard that song for the first time, I couldn't quite believe it. It was so ahead of its time, they initially couldn't do it live in one take on stage. His show-stopping performance at Live Aid in 1985 must rank as another high spot. I also admire the bravery and dignity with which he confronted Aids – he co-wrote one of Queen's most poignant songs, The Show Must Go On, as he was dying.
Is there anything you don't particularly admire about him?
Not really – all the rumours we hear about his partying make him just more of a legend in my mind, although I admire him first and foremost for his musicianship and voice.
Can you see any parallels between his life and your own?
I’d like to think I’m a good performer, but I’m definitely not in the same league as him – he was very much Premier League, I’m more Championship! He also had a more powerful voice than me. However, I would like to think we both touched people’s souls through our music.
Did he influence you as a vocalist?
Not really, but performance-wise definitely because he gave everything on stage, and I hope I do the same.
If you could have met Freddie Mercury, what would you have asked him?
I’ve been lucky to get to know Brian May [Queen’s guitarist] and his wife Anita Dobson, but one of my greatest regrets is that I never got to perform with Freddie. If I had met him, I’d have asked him what went through his mind when he was on stage, and what it was like to perform at Live Aid.
Aled Jones was talking to York Membery.
Aled Jones is a singer and radio and television presenter. He shot to fame as a boy in the 1980s with his top 5 hit Walking in the Air. His latest album, One Voice: Believe, is out now.