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What can we learn from Freddie Mercury?

I recently went to see the film Bohemian Rhapsody. Although I’m not a huge Queen fan, growing in the 80’s in the UK, Queen were a big part of the soundtrack to my childhood.

I thought the film was great, whether you like the music or not as it not only portrayed the ups and downs of the band but also the issues of the day; drugs, homosexuality, race integration the explosion of rock and pop music and its influence on culture. My big ‘take-aways’ from the film were of course inspired by Farouk Bulsara (better known as Freddie Mercury).

So what can we learn from Freddie?

1 – He was always the ‘different one’, be the innovator

Farouk was born in Zanzibar and was from Parsi decent. He grew up there and in India before moving with his family to England, in his late teens. He met the others from Queen whilst at University. The lead singer of the band Brian and Roger were already in quit, so Freddie stepped in. Even then Freddie stood out, not because of his charisma or his fashion style, but because at the time he was different. He was the immigrant in a time were integration wasn’t so excepted or as normal as it is now.

At this time, he hadn’t really explored his sexuality either but he always knew he was different and that wasn’t just down to his background. At one point in the film Freddie is shopping in Biba (VERY fashionable clothes store in London in the 1970s). He asks the assistant (who was soon to turn out to be his long-term muse) if they had the item in his size. She replies “I’m not sure as this is the ladies section!”. He knew he was different from, what at the time, was considered the ‘norm’ in race, sex, and style but he was eventually brave enough to fight against his inner demons and ‘go with it’, not be afraid to innovate and stand out from the crowd.

2 – Believe in yourself  – Believe in your cause

The film portrays beautifully the struggle (the now) Freddie had with embracing western culture whilst dealing with the betrayal his father felt in him doing so. Freddie knew from the beginning he was different, listening to ‘western music’ even when he was growing up in India.

In the Queen Song Innuendo it sums up perfectly his inner demons:

You can be anything you want to be
Just turn yourself into anything you think that you could ever be
Be free with your tempo, be free, be free
Surrender your ego be free, be free to yourself

It took him a while to ‘find himself’ but he was true to his calling at the end, and eventually found happiness and love in the UK.

3 – Surround yourself with the ‘good guys’ not the fruit flies.

Freddie was lucky enough to bump into Brian, Roger and John at University. Brian was studying to be an astrophysicist, John an electrical engineer and Roger (ironically) a dentist. They weren’t flighty art or music students but three level headed, science majors with no ego between them. No doubt they had a ball as four young guys on the road in America, but they kept Freddie’s feet on the ground and protected him, to an extent from himself and from others who wanted to take advantage of him. At a certain moment, Freddie took the wrong advance. He followed the wrong path and ended up drug fuelled, under intense pressure and desperately lonely. He uses the analogy of the people he followed down the wrong turn as fruit flies hovering around the rotting fruit. Freddie went to Germany to work on his own music by himself. He hired the best musicians there but what they created, in his word was terrible. They did exactly what he asked them, but without Brian, John and Roger pushing, arguing, debating and working together with him, he could no longer create brilliance. The moral, although at times it might be tough, learn to live with the ones you trust, they will make you great, others will just become the fruit flies.

4 – Be Confident

Freddie oozed charisma and confidence. Even in his times of despair and loneliness, he tried to overcome it with throwing lavish parties and being the center of attention. This, of course, didn’t solve his inner conflict, but whatever he did, he did with confidence. Confidence to listen to western music when he was growing up, confidence to go to University and be ‘that’ kid. Even the confidence to not have his teeth fixed when he had countless opportunities too. He could sing 4 octaves and not only did he not want to change anything about his features just in case it disrupted his singing abilities, but he was confident in the way he looked, even if too many, it was a bit toothy!

So how does Freddie Mercury relate to fundraising and us in the Social Sector?

1 – Be the innovator.

Live Aid was the first fundraising concert to make history. Fronted by Bob Geldof, calling in favours from Phil Collins, Elton John and other musical legends. Bob was an innovator, but Freddie took the platform to a new level. For anyone who watched Live Aid, the first time around you probably won’t remember how much was raised ($127 Million), but for sure you will remember Freddie Mercury giving a truly innovative performance and stealing the show.

2 – Believe

In yourself and your cause. Whatever your challenge be it personal or professional have belief as that will see you through.

3 – Surround yourself with the good guys

Choose your board, advisors, partners wisely. They are the people who guide and help you. The people with yours and your organisations best interests at heart will see you through.

4 – Be confident

Be proud of what you and your organisation do. Show confidence in your results and impact and you will reap the respect you deserve.

Following the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992, Brian May, Roger Taylor and producer Jim Beach set up The Mercury Phoenix Trust (MPT) in Freddie’s memory who died from HIV/AIDS in 1991. The MPT has reached millions in the fight against HIV/AIDS worldwide, providing % 17 million to over 1,000 projects in 56 countries.

The MPT predominantly funds smaller organizations it assesses and vets as they effectively work at grassroots level, where governments, larger NGOs and markets don’t often reach.

“Freddie was taken from us too young, but there is still time to make a difference and change the destinies of millions around the world” Brian May.

Our sentiments exactly!