From the outset Peter Freestone, exuded an honesty and warmth that’s both refreshing and welcoming and surprisingly, both he and performer Chris Lee were sitting at reception awaiting my arrival.
It didn’t take long before we were firmly ensconced at a table and chatting about Freddie and his influence on both Peter and Chris. However, it must be stated at the outset Peter had a dramatic impact on this icon’s life although he would humbly never admit it. “I just love helping people,” he says with a smile – but, we will get to this tale a little later.
It’s a kinda magic
Peter’s first connection with Showtime’s tribute began in 2003 when he received an email. He freely admits that when he first read that it was to be yet another tribute he put the mail aside and dealt with more pressing matters. However, he later decided to do them the courtesy of reading the mail which, because they knew of his close contact with Freddie Mercury, was asking for his opinion of the show. “What made it even more interesting were the last two paragraphs stating that they would supply the tickets to Singapore. All they wanted was my honest opinion and if I didn’t enjoy the show then I still would have had a weekend away enjoying the sights courtesy Showtime.”
He still remembers that there were two performances, the first of which he attended he says “I can’t tell you about the show because of the audience (reaction). It took me back to 1979 and the ‘Crazy Tour of Britain’ which included the town of Newcastle – both of the audiences (which were about the same size) were on their feet from the moment the music began – they became one with the band on stage. I had to go back on the second day to actually ‘see’ the show…” He hasn’t looked back and now endorses the authenticity of the show, touring and attending performances when time allows.
In fact, the show not only has his endorsement, but features Chris Lee who was actually auditioned by Peter. How did this happen, you may ask? Well, believe it or not Chris had been performing at a karaoke evening in an Australian pub when he was ‘spotted’ by a member of the audience while singing ‘Somebody to Love’. A few days later, knowing that Showtime Australia were looking for a performer this person, who didn’t even know Chris’ name, began phoning around to trace him. The audition took place in a recording studio and the rest is history.
“He works even harder than Freddie did,” says Peter chuckling, “after all he has all those costume changes” as the show spans songs over a number of years. For Chris, however, this is the fulfilment of a dream. “I first saw Freddie on TV with ‘We are the Champions’ when I was four or five and was inspired by the way he commanded people’s attention.” And this is what Chris hopes to portray when he’s on stage. “I have a similar hunger for entertaining people – even shocking them – as did Freddie! It’s all about creating a spectacle where I can bring my raw emotion on stage and let it feed the performance. In fact, I’m willing to live on bread and butter for the joy of performing Freddie’s music – he’s an inspiration – a king!”
The luckiest person alive
This is what Peter believes he is, having had Freddie as a close friend. “He’s made me into the person I am today – someone who is happy to help – lives to help others. He was such a giving person and he taught me the value of friendship. Friends were more important to him than blood relations.” Having a similar history in their youth spending time at boarding school in India (something which Peter shares though not at the same time) one had to hold onto one’s friends for support.
Although time has passed since Freddie’s untimely death and Peter has a “kind of peace” he says “I would love for Freddie to be around today, but my life wouldn’t be as it is – I truly believe that I’m the luckiest person alive. I’ve had the most amazing life: I’ve flown on the Concord nine times; stayed in the best suites at the best hotels; met the most amazing people and drunk the most fantastic champagne (and won’t touch any other) – Louis Roederer Cristal – it’s liquid silk.
“He taught me so much about life. By giving you can make other people’s lives so much better – and it doesn’t have to be money, just a thought. He also taught me to appreciate life and live every day as if it was my last - as he did.” The appreciation of art was also on the agenda.
Peter lives and breathes opera and to this end he now resides in a village in the Czech Republic where classical music is the food of the soul. “I’ll never forget the first time I was introduced to opera – it was 22 April 1975 – Verdi’s ‘Il Trovatore’,” he says. “I was working at Selfridges (the youngest manager ever at that time) and a co-worker had a part-time job as a dresser for the Royal Opera Company and they needed someone else so I jumped at the chance.”
And now for the piéce de resistancé – if he hadn’t been friends with Freddie Mercury and he hadn’t taken Freddy to his first operatic performance, the magnificent, awe-inspiring performance with Monserrat Caballe might never have happened!
“When I first started working with Freddie he would occasionally put on a Pavarotti LP – not because he enjoyed opera, but because he liked his voice.” At that stage he had never been to a live performance. However, in 1981 Peter persuaded Freddie to see Pavarotti perform at the Royal Opera House, but it wasn’t the tenor who captivated him it was the soprano in the second act – Monserrat, he couldn’t take his eyes off of her and his jaw literally dropped – he had fallen for her voice.
In 1986, while on a European Tour, Freddie was interviewed in Barcelona mentioning that he was mesmerised by her voice. Her brother overheard the interview and so began the preparations for that legendary performance at the Barcelona Olympics. “They were going to record a single with two tracks (one for each side), but Monserrat asked how many tracks he normally recorded for an album. When he replied 10, she said let’s record an album. This meant so much to him that he actually paid for the recording himself and sold it afterwards – which isn’t the norm. But, he didn’t care if people liked it or not – it was just an added bonus that they did!”
It’s time I stopped waxing lyrical. Look out for the review of ‘Queen: It’s a Kinda Magic’ (which I will be seeing on Friday evening (18 June 2010) as it opens at Sibaya Casino in uMdloti on the east coast of South Africa) and there will be even more snippits from this amazing interview. link