UNILAD Voices is a new series where our writers argue in favour of an opinion they’re truly passionate about. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Freddie Mercury was as his name suggests: a mercurial character as excitable, whimsical, and unpredictable as quicksilver itself. This alone earns the Queen singer-songwriter the accolade of greatest frontman of all time.
His manner and stage presence is incomparable, even all these years after his death on 24 November, 1991, aged just 45.
But there’s something else which sets Freddie apart from all the frontmen and women who both preceded and followed in his intrepid, swift and featly footsteps.
In the interests of persuasion, watch this:
And, oh, just how many have cited Queen and Mercury as their inspiration since.
Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain used to drain his car battery listening to Queen on its tape deck. Panic! At The Disco make a point of covering Bohemian Rhapsody at their live shows, crediting Queen for encouraging their confident theatricality.
Lady Gaga, real name Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, even got her stage persona from the four-piece’s 1977 hit, Radio Gaga, while Katy Perry cites Mercury’s sarcastic writing style as her ‘biggest influence’.
If those glowing endorsements weren’t enough, science has also since proven Freddie is the greatest frontman of all time.
A group of Austrian, Czech, and Swedish researchers conducted research, published in Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology, which pinpointed exactly why Freddie was a unique vocalist and all-round Killer Queen.
The study found, despite being known mainly as a tenor, he was actually closer to a baritone.
The researchers analysed his speaking voice in six interviews which revealed a median speaking fundamental frequency of 117.3 Hz, proving the singer was talented enough to split away from his base range.
They were unable to confirm (or deny) the rock n roll myth which suggests the Parsi singer’s range spanned four octaves.
But they did discover he likely used subharmonics – a singing style where the ventricular folds vibrate along with the vocal folds – to a degree most singers can’t.
In other words, Mercury’s vocal cords simply moved faster than those of most other frontmen and women. While a typical vibrato will move between 5.4 Hz and 6.9 Hz, Mercury’s measured 7.04 Hz.
With the building block of greatness at his very core, Mercury, real name Farrokh Bulsara, pushed the boundaries further through his experimental methodologies.
Queen’s recording techniques were exhaustively documented in the biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody:
The success of the film, which is now the second highest grossing biopic of all time behind Straight Outta Compton, only goes to illustrate the long-lasting legacy of Queen and their frontman, Freddie.
But you can posthumously measure the greatness of Freddie Mercury by a much more tangible standard.
Following a moving and hugely successful Tribute Concert in 1992, Brian May, Roger Taylor and Jim Beach set up The Mercury Phoenix Trust (MPT) in memory of the iconic Freddie Mercury who died the year before.
Since, The Mercury Phoenix Trust has reached millions in the fight against HIV/AIDS worldwide, providing $17million to over 1,000 projects in 56 countries (and counting!).
The MPT predominantly funds smaller organisations it assesses and vets as they effectively work at grassroots level, where governments, larger NGOs and markets don’t often reach.
The goal is prevention and better HIV testing as well as support for those suffering.
Today, on the day which marks 27 years since Freddie Mercury passed away due to complications from AIDS, it’s important to remember why he was so much more than a frontman.
While he struggled with the emotional and physical consequences of AIDS, Freddie stayed strong in the face of speculation and blatant homophobia in the press.
He only publicly confirmed he had contracted the disease the day before his death. This act of defiance paved the way for a societal shift in attitudes so people with HIV/AIDS are not defined by their illness, as well as better prevention and HIV testing.
Aptly, this week is HIV Testing Week in the UK. Dr Elizabeth Kershaw-Yates, GP and one of the medical team at The Online Clinic and The STI clinic told UNILAD about the disease which took Mercury’s life.
She cleared up a common misconception about the difference between HIV and AIDS:
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the disease which attacks our immune system and makes us vulnerable to infections.
But AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is the name used to describe your condition once your immune system has already been severely damaged by HIV. Someone with AIDS has contracted a number of potentially life-threatening illnesses.
UNILAD spoke to HIV positive activist, Marvelyn Brown, who has also dedicated her life to fighting the ‘pure ignorance’ which perpetuates myths and bigotries surrounding HIV and misconceptions about HIV testing.
She didn’t have access to this kind of information when she was growing up living the American dream in Nashville, Tennessee.
Marvelyn was diagnosed as HIV positive as a ‘vulnerable 19 year old girl who struggled with self love and self acceptance’ and had no idea HIV could be contracted through heterosexual contact.
She freely admits now, as 34-year-old Emmy award-winning humanitarian, she only thought of certain groups of people – ‘gay men, IV drug users and/or prostitutes’ – as being at risk of HIV and ‘never once’ thought it could happen to her.
It’s a bigotry Freddie suffered from, and Marvelyn is now compelled to combat having also ‘experienced rejection’ for being HIV positive.
An otherwise fit and healthy woman who was on school sports teams, Marvelyn had contracted pneumonia and been taken to the ICU for treatment. While recovering in hospital, her doctors told her she was HIV positive and would be for the rest of her life.
Since, she says, not a day passes where HIV doesn’t ‘affect [her] emotionally and socially’.
But she continues to fight ‘everyday of my life’ through antibiotics, her faith, maintaining a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise as well as ‘staying positive’.
At one point she was taking 42 pills every day for a disease she now knows is 100 per cent preventable through appropriate protection and HIV testing.
She now encourages testing in non-judgemental conversations. Dr Kershaw-Yates chimes in, stating anyone who is having unprotected sex or injecting drugs should access HIV testing – no exceptions.
Tests are really easy and can be done at a GP’s surgery or GUM Clinic by taking blood or saliva, or even online through a home sampling test, the results of which would be returned to you within a few days.
It’s free and confidential.
Testing for HIV is quick, free and confidential. Whatever you do this #HIVTestWeek, make sure you get tested and know your status. Order your free HIV postal test kit today and test for HIV at home: https://t.co/xnQlA6Jd5m pic.twitter.com/mSlDtZR89x
— Public Health England (@PHE_uk) November 21, 2018
Despite our understanding of AIDS improving vastly since Freddie was diagnosed, some sections of society still categorise and judge those with the illness, a ‘frustrating’ fact which all comes down to the very blood which runs through their veins, Marvelyn says.
Agreeing the ignorance has certain ties to racism and homophobia, she often feels we’ve moved on to the point where ‘people were ok with me being HIV positive but not with ok with me being normal and being HIV positive.’
Meanwhile, better awareness, accessibility to contraception, and HIV testing has seen a decline in the number of people newly diagnosed with HIV for the first time in history.
The author of The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful and (HIV) Positive added:
I feel the need to educate individuals and let them know that you can get HIV whether you are promiscuous, non-promiscuous, an addict or a non-addict.
There are so many misconceptions out there about HIV. As a person who was infected with HIV who was non-promiscuous and a non-addict, I do feel an obligation to tell you my story as an example for change.
But, still, some people she encounters as she travels the world teaching about safe sex and testing believe people with HIV/AIDS have ‘a look’ or ‘are contagious’.
While HIV is incurable, it can be treated, she adds:
For people living with HIV, HIV does not define you and you do not have to be confined to box. Live outside the box; it is much more freeing.
As with any condition, Marvelyn – who’s now considered an ‘AIDSelebrity’ – teaches her followers acceptance and strength as well as the importance of HIV testing.
It’s something The Mercury Phoenix Trust channels in all its fundraising activity, too. It’s, at least in part, credit to Freddie and his struggle that women like Marvelyn are able to spread awareness about HIV testing today.
He never let his illness define him or his critics box him in.
As far as his true purpose in life – performing – goes, Freddie was the King, the Queen, all the court jesters, and the fact he didn’t let AIDS stop him achieving his dreams continues to be an inspiration to all those living with HIV and AIDS today.
On HIV testing, Marvelyn concluded:
For young people embarking in sex, I encourage you to love yourself enough to protect yourself. Sex feels great but HIV, not so much.
[HIV] may have slowed some things down for me but it has not stopped anything completely. The only thing HIV has stopped me doing is taking things for granted.
As Freddie once said himself: Don’t Stop Me Now. Don’t let AIDS stop you. Get tested.
If you, a friend or family member have affected by HIV/AIDS, Positively UK offer free, impartial advice and support via email and on their phoneline: 020 7713 0444.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]