Recently I had the enormous privilege of being part of the Carnaby Street launch event for the highly anticipated film - Bohemian Rhapsody - a Freddie Mercury biopic that attempts to tell the Queen story as it was meant to be told. Brian May and Roger Taylor served as executive music producers and no doubt had considerable influence over the story telling and recollection of Freddie’s life. I’ve no doubt that there would have been a genuine wrestling between the biographical and a desire to honour him as a very dear friend.
To celebrate the film, Carnaby Street installed an incredible set of lights which line the full length of the street, using lyrics from Bohemian Rhapsody to set the famous street aglow. It’s genuinely the most impressive lighting display in London this year, and cuts through the same-old same-old Christmas light displays that neighbouring streets like Oxford Street regurgitate year after year.
Such is the public’s obsession with Queen, Carnaby has seen its biggest footfall in years, which comes as they also play host to a brilliant Queen pop-up store at 3 Carnaby Street. Here fans can get all their merch, see a gallery of previously unseen photos, and they can even get tattoos from Roger Taylor’s tattooist who has set up residence on the lower ground floor.On launch night I had the honour of stepping onto the main stage and also meeting Brian and Roger. It’s something I’ll never forget and something I’ll always be able to tell the kids about. Standing on the stage before the fireworks were set off, I witnessed a sea of fans that stretched the entire length of Carnaby Street. I don’t know how many fans had gathered, but I sensed in this moment - the air thick with excitement and anticipation - was a mere slither of what Queen must have experienced time and time again, night after night on stages all over the world. It was genuinely electrifying.
And this is what I love about music. Years after their music rocked the world, generations later, we gather in Carnaby and EVERYONE knows the words, hands are aloft, and EVERYONE sings... “we are the champions, of the world”. It’s an extraordinary moment.
A few days later the film premiered at Wembley Arena. It’s a long time coming, the film having suffered a number of initial set backs including changes to the lead role and its director with Sacha Baron Cohen initially favoured for the lead role, and Bryan Singer directing initially. Dexter Fletcher went on to take the helm and Rami Malek stepped into arguably some of the biggest shoes we’ve seen in recent cinematic history to play Freddie Mercury. His portrayal had to be nothing short of a master-piece in order to win the hearts of generations of Queen fans.
It’s clear to me, start to finish, that there is a degree of Roger Taylor and Brian May choosing how they would wish Freddie to be remembered, a sense in which they balance a desire to honour his memory and pay tribute to him, whilst needing to tackle difficult issues of morality and his sexuality head on. And let’s remember that at the time of his passing, there was little understanding of AIDS and same sex relationships carried an enormous amount of stigma, meaning that he was far from honoured in the media aftermath - something that hurt Roger and Brian deeply, because the media’s portrayal was very different to the man they’d journeyed with.
For me personally they get this balance spot on. They’re very honest about a number of major issues that they faced as a band, from unwanted and divisive influences within the Queen camp, the arguments and disagreements between them, to dealing with Freddie’s personal problems. And actually I found the film very very moving, a stark reminder that those on the biggest stages often suffer terribly to arrive in a position of such incredible influence and popularity. It’s a very hard road, often externally looking to the world as if you have everything. Yet under it all, the truth is that the young man who once worked as a baggage handler at a London airport was very confused and very alone. I guess you have to be careful what you wish for.
Jump into the re-creation of the Live Aid concert held at the old Wembley Stadium, back in 1985, and you will be mesmerised by the CGI - because you don’t really notice it. You’re swept back in time and immersed in a piece of history that I actually recall vividly from my early years, watching it on a VHS cassette recording (google it kids!), after the event. I didn’t fully understand or appreciate the significance of that moment, why uncle Bob was staging a benefit concert, and that this moment had been watched by 1.5 BILLION people via 13 satellites. Think about that for a sec? Instagram has just hit 1 Billion users and its 2018. And could Instagram retain every user for a show that played host to 70 acts? Also, the fact that Queen also missed this moment entirely is something I wasn’t aware of. It’s a fascinating watch.
If I were you, I’d go see it. And if you’re in London, my secret cinema spot is Curzon Mayfair because it’s quiet, old school, and they serve a great espresso martini before the movie. But for the sake of history. For the love of music. For tenderness, heartache, pain and warmth, and for those of you that enjoy a perfect roller coaster movie - go - this is befitting of the Queen story in every single way. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen.