Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own | Sotheby’s
Even if we try to be minimalist and careful in what we buy, we relentlessly accumulate stuff over time. It’s unavoidable, inevitable. Minimalism wasn’t a concept embraced by the deeply carefree Freddie Mercury, who shopped and hoarded relentlessly on a rockstar budget. That’s a message that was rammed home with the subtlety of a Queen ballad as I wandered round Sotheby’s, surrounded by fellow gawkers, peering at packed walls and into packed glass cases, at all of Freddie’s stuff.
We can do this because it’s all for sale, barcode-tagged, and will be auctioned off early next month. Freddie (writing ‘Mercury’ seems wrong, I feel so close to him now!) left the entire contents of his large Kensington house, known as Garden Lodge, to a friend on his death - and she’s selling the lot now. 30,000 objects, loosely arranged by theme. The auction house, scenting a media event, has proved more than welcoming to members of the public who don’t usually frequent its halls on Bond Street; even when I visited on a rainy weekday afternoon, it was pretty packed.
Good taste was the least of Freddie’s concerns. A lot of the lots are impressively hideous - from his monogrammed shower doors (a bit rusty on the hinges) to endless terrible Louis Icart watercolours on the walls.
Instead, Freddie pleased himself. He loved Japan, cats and entertaining. So he bought kimonos and Hiroshige prints, cat trinkets and cat books, and multiple dinner sets. His dining table, laid for a party in one of the larger galleries, is a camp fever dream. One of my favourite lots (pictured above, bidding north of £500 at time of writing) is a printed menu for one of his dinner parties. The event was called Inferma les douches, and featuring “a juicy cut of Betty’s prime meat” on the menu as the main course. Freddie the host is recast as “Beryl Blunder”, and promises “chaos”. Everyone here at Sotheby’s would have wanted an invite.
The most moving thing about the show though was the ordinariness of so much of what’s for sale. A total contrast to the shiny luxurious, social media filtered “lifestyle” presentation of today’s celebs, almost all of whom are way less talented and famous than Freddie. He travelled with stained Samsonite suitcases, patched with tour stickers. He smoked 10 packs of Silk Cuts. His library is a grab bag of sci fi and body building books, spines broken: he’d read them, not put the books together for show. His sofas and chairs are patchy and threadbare, his padded kitchen stools have lost some of their stuffing.
While a Tiffany moustache comb (pictured above) has captured media attention and will go for north of £20,000, I spotted and was touched by a different comb in one of the glass cases. It was a plastic trinket, in the shape of a whale, with the teeth of the comb its baleen. Almost worthless, but bought by a man who just wanted to entertain, shop and show off.
I can’t find it online. But it sums up the show for me, a show of stuff, endless stuff, that accumulated over a great life of a great man. And eventually formed a great show.
Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own is at Sotheby’s. Evening Sale is on 06 September