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BOOK REVIEW: Mercury and Me – An Intimate Memoir by the Man He Loved by Jim Hutton with Tim Wapshott

| 23 April 2020 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Mercury and Me- An Intimate Memoir by the Man He Loved by Jim Hutton with Tim Wapshott

Bloomsbury Publishing
August 2019
Paperback, $22.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction Books / Biographies & True Stories / Arts & Entertainment Biographies

65% Rocking

Rock stars like Queen’s Freddie Mercury and David Bowie often seem other-worldly. We put them up on pedestals and often forget that they were only human, just like us. The biography, Mercury & Me is written by the late Jim Hutton, Mercury’s long-time lover, along with journalist Tim Wapshott. While it humanises the great artist, there are times where you feel like the icon deserved a more unique and creative text. This Mercury isn’t always rising.

While Freddie told me the story of his life that summer we discovered there was a special chemistry between us. I fell in love with so much about Freddie, regardless of what he did for a living. He had big brown eyes and a vulnerable, child-like persona. He was quite the opposite of the sort of man I’d ever fancied before: I liked big men with stocky legs, but Freddie had a waspish figure and the thinnest legs I’d ever seen. And for all that he had apparently achieved, he appeared to be remarkably insecure. He seemed totally sincere, and I was hooked.

It is easy to feel conflicted about this memoir. On the one hand, it could be argued that Hutton was one of the few people who knew Freddie Mercury the best. Hutton met him at a gay bar in 1984 (the Bohemian Rhapsody film took poetic licence with this and some other events) and they were together until the singer’s passing in 1991. Some Queen fans may think this book is too private and intimate at times, while others will enjoy what is an honest and forthright take on the band’s front man.

Mercury was an enigma and a chameleon, and that is confirmed in this book. So while Hutton’s recollections are often heartfelt, and full of warmth and affection, you can’t help but feel that some of Mercury will be unknowable. At times, Hutton is quite brief in his details about certain events, though that may also be because he seems rather protective of their relationship (and rightly so).

Mercury’s life was a fascinating one that you feel could have filled several volumes. Yet this one is quite a brief read. There are anecdotes about the Live Aid gig at Wembley, Queen’s later recording sessions, and Mercury’s collaboration with Opera diva, Montserrat Caballé. But a lot of the discussion is also about Mercury’s penchant for extravagance.

My fortieth birthday in January 1989 was one I wanted to forget, as it reminded me I was getting on a bit. But Freddie took me to the Meridian in Chelsea to celebrate. He said, ‘I’m taking you out tonight, as forty is the big birthday.’
…Then Freddie fixed his eyes on me and all the lights in the restaurant dimmed. Waiters wheeled out a birthday cake which was typical of Freddie’s wild imagination: a three-dimensional iced model of the Garden Lodge conservatory. I looked around at Freddie and the others in astonishment, then blurted out: ‘You bastards!’
I glanced at Freddie’s impish look of delight, then I kissed him.

As a character, Jim Hutton seems like a loveable, Irish chap. He was a barber at the Savoy Hotel before meeting Mercury, and he later became the artist’s gardener in order to maintain his independence. Hutton often says that Mercury’s star power meant very little to him and this seems genuine.

‘We’re going to Live Aid!’ he screamed, and my mouth fell to the floor. I’d never been to a concert before, a fact that Freddie didn’t know.
‘I’ve got nothing to wear,’ I spluttered.
‘You don’t need anything,’ he replied. ‘Just get your jeans on and there are T-shirts in the wardrobe. Help yourself.’
We swept to Wembley in the back of one of a fleet of black limousines. I was on my way to see Queen perform live on stage for the very first time.

A person who isn’t represented in a particularly positive light here is Mercury’s long-time friend and former lover, Mary Austin, who inherited the bulk of Mercury’s estate. According to Hutton, she was rather cruel to him and Mercury’s other close confidantes. This is especially evident in the aftermath of Mercury’s death from complications to do with AIDs, and her supposed instructions about his house.

From now on Garden Lodge was to be opened each day to allow the three of us to go about our business, but every night at six it was to be locked. No one was allowed to sleep in the house overnight. And the house alarm system was being increased tenfold.
So I had come home to discover I didn’t have a home any more. It was such a mean-spirited thing to do and very depressing for all of us…
I was devastated by what was happening to us. I know Freddie would have been furious. Garden Lodge, once a place of such warmth and care, was now about to resemble Fort Knox.

In this book, Hutton and Wapshott have a tendency to jump around with the narrative. The chapters aren’t structured around a theme and sometimes the chronology of the events is non-linear. But what this prose lacks in logic, it makes up for in raw emotions for the front man. This is ultimately like a love letter and tribute from Hutton to Mercury.

I slipped my arm under Freddie’s neck, kissed him and then held him. His eyes were still open. I can remember very clearly the expression on his face – and when I go to sleep every night it’s still there in front of me. He looked radiant. One minute he was a boy with a gaunt, sad little face and the next he was a picture of ecstasy. Freddie’s whole face went back to everything it had been before. He looked finally and totally at peace. Seeing him like that made me feel happy in my sadness. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. I knew that he was no longer in pain.

Mercury & Me is a book that is good, but not great. While it could have been an original and poetic depiction of a legend, instead it seems like a rather straightforward music biography. Hutton is a sincere man who is full of love for Mercury but at times it feels like this biography barely scratches the surface of the late, great pretender.

Category: Book Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at: http://nataliesalvo.wordpress.com

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