A world of his own: Freddie Mercury’s prized London possessions are set to be auctioned by Sotheby’s

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“The one thing I would really miss if I left Britain would be Sotheby’s”, said pop star and lead singer of Queen, Freddie Mercury. “I love going to auctions.” 

It’s therefore easy to assume the ill-fated icon would be pleased to know that the famed London auction house has today unveiled a new exhibition, Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own, dedicated to his life on stage and behind closed doors. Comprising a collection of works sourced directly from Mercury’s Garden Lodge home in Kensington, the free exhibition will open to the public tomorrow and run until 5 September, when auctions for his most prized possessions will begin. 

Sotheby’s was granted access to his beloved W8 address by Mercury’s former girlfriend and long-time friend, Mary Austin, who inherited the property in 1991 after his death at just 45. “For many years now, I have had the joy and privilege of living surrounded by all the wonderful things that Freddie sought out and so loved,” she said in a statement. “But the years have passed, and the time has come for me to take the difficult decision to close this very special chapter in my life. It was important to me to do this in a way that I felt Freddie would have loved, and there was nothing he loved more than an auction.”

More than 1,400 lots – divided into three auctions called The Evening, On Stage and At Home – are set to be sold next month, ranging from cat memorabilia (his love for the animal has been well documented) to manuscripts and dining room tables, to outfits from his extensive wardrobe. 

The star of the show, however, is undoubtedly his treasured Yamaha Baby Grand Piano. Estimated to fetch £2-3m, Dr Gabriel Heaton, from Sotheby’s specialist books and manuscripts department, says: “There is no question that of all the objects this is the one that meant the most to him. This was his personal piano: the outlet for his creativity, his principal composition instrument and part of his musical and personal journey from 1975 up until his death. It sat at the heart of Garden Lodge. 

“He bought it in early 1975 and it took a lot of time and trouble to find the perfect piano. The piano was Freddie’s primary instrument; when he was at boarding school in India, he had piano lessons as his aunt heard that this boy had a musical ear. Even when he was at college, playing the latest pop song on the piano by ear was his party trick. It was only with Queen that he found his voice.” 

freddie mercury sotheby's

Freddie Mercury’s Yamaha Baby Grand Piano, estimated at £2-3m

Each of the 15 galleries at Sotheby’s has been divided into sections from the rooms at Garden Lodge, ranging from the Drawing Room, where Mercury displayed many of his objet d’art, to his Dining Room, where he hosted a number of memorable guests for dinner parties, including Sir Elton John, Jamaican singer Peter Straker, and Mercury’s friend and manager, Paul Prenter. 

One of the most notable rooms is Mercury’s Japanese Room, which has been thoughtfully recreated by Sotheby’s and accessed via a ‘Garden Lodge’ gated door similar to the one remaining at the property. Inside, you’ll discover some of his prized Japanese prints, which he bought at Sotheby’s in 1977, kimonos he wore on stage and around his home, and oriental ceramics. “When people think of Freddie, they think he was at parties and nightclubs but Garden Lodge was a complete sanctuary and only the closest people to him got to come in. In that sanctuary, behind that battlement, there was the Japanese room and to get into that area you had to be incredibly close to him,” explains David McDonald, Sotheby’s head of single owner sales. 

“It was a space Freddie used particularly towards the end of his life. It was a place where he could sit, enjoy that glorious garden with his two magnolia trees and his carp pond. This [room shows] his love of Japan expressed through objects.”

Another highlight is Mercury’s wardrobe collection, which includes personal outfits and stage costumes. Here, you’ll be able to spot his ‘FLASH’ T-shirt with matching red vinyl trousers, which was a signature on and off stage look for Mercury throughout The Game Tour of 1980-81. It is estimated to fetch between £15,000–£20,000. There is also Mercury’s stage-worn vest for his final performance with Queen at Knebworth Park on 9 August 1986. Decorated with brand lettering and the logo ‘Champion’, it is estimated to reach £6,000–8,000. 

Says Carey Wallace, specialist in entertainment memorabilia from Wallace and Hodgson: “We have a lot of his personal wardrobe too, which was much-loved, going up until 1980 when he completely changed his style, cut his hair and grew a moustache. It also shows his work with musician and friend Roger Taylor. Freddie and Roger had a market stall together at Kensington Market to sell vintage clothes and it looks like Freddie kept most of those rather than selling them!” 

When the Sotheby’s team first gained access to Garden Lodge, they expected to find manuscripts and song sheets but perhaps not in such quantity. With ashtrays, sheets and piano stools still exactly where Mercury left them, they discovered original lyrics for what have transformed into internationally-renowned songs by Queen. Heaton explains: “We have working lyrics of pretty much every song that Freddie Mercury wrote through the 1970s: Killer Queen, Love Of My Life, We Are The Champions, Don’t Stop Me Now and Bicycle Race. These are not just copies he took into the studio, we’ve got extensive working drafts which show how the songs developed and changed in the most wonderful way. 

“We also have the earliest surviving draft of Freddie’s masterpiece: Bohemian Rhapsody. It even has an alternative title as ‘Bohemian’ is over something that is crossed out that is quite clearly the word ‘Mongolian’.” 

McDonald adds: “These are the source codes of the greatest moments in popular culture of the late 20th century. But out of all the treasures in the collection, [the Yamaha piano] is arguably the most significant in terms of the story of Freddie and his life. This was the centrepiece of Garden Lodge: it was his pride and joy, and great love.” 

‘Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own’ is open to the public from 4 August until 5 September 2023, before auctions on 6, 7 and 8 September 2023. Visit sothebys.com

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