Freddie Mercury's Final Performance With Queen, Knebworth Park 1986

Updated on January 5, 2019
PaulGoodman67 profile image

A veteran fan of Queen and a big music enthusiast generally, Paul was born and raised in England, but now lives in Florida.

Queen live in concert in 1982.  Just over 4 years later, Freddie Mercury would make his last live performance with Queen.
Queen live in concert in 1982. Just over 4 years later, Freddie Mercury would make his last live performance with Queen. | Source

On 9th August 1986, over a hundred and twenty thousand people gathered outdoors at Knebworth Park to watch a number of British musical acts.

Topping the bill were the rock band, Queen, still riding high after their stunning performance at the Live Aid concert at Wembley and fronted by their charismatic vocalist, Freddie Mercury.

The concert was powerful and Queen’s performance outstanding. What none of us knew at the time, including myself, was that this concert would be the final performance of Freddie Mercury with Queen.

I thought it would be interesting to look back at that day and the concert for both people like myself, who were there, as well as other Queen fans who unfortunately were unable to attend for whatever reason.

I always knew I was a star And now, the rest of the world seems to agree with me.

— Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury was one of rock and pop music's greatest singers and showmen.
Freddie Mercury was one of rock and pop music's greatest singers and showmen. | Source

A brief history of Queen up to then

Queen were formed in 1971 and released their first album in 1973. They had a degree of success in Britain, but they were slow to gain wider recognition and it was their hit song and accompanying video, Bohemian Rhapsody which really brought them into the international limelight in 1975.

More hits followed, including stadium rock appeared at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium, when they produced one of the greatest performances of all time, in many people’s opinion.

And, we have no such thing as a budget anymore. Our manager freaks when we show him the bill. We're lavish to the bone, but all our money goes back into the product.

— Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury was a charismatic frontman and knew how to work an audience. At times he could camp up his performance, other times, he could rock out, an ideal mixture for a singer in a pop rock band, playing to big venues. Mercury who was bisexual, was diagnosed as being HIV positive in 1987, according to his partner.

This would later develop into full blown AIDS and there there was no way of slowing the disease back then. His condition was kept secret until the 23rd November 1991 when Mercury’s illness was announced to the press. Just over 24 hours later, Mercury died. The Knebworth Park concert would prove to be his last with Queen.

Each gig should be unique. You're always treading that line between keeping yourself fresh and giving people something they want to hear.

— Brian May

How the day of the concert went

Over 120,000 people attended the concert that day and the weather was close to perfect for an outdoor concert. Despite some traffic problems caused by the huge crowd, the atmosphere was generally relaxed and upbeat. The other bands that played that day were Beloius Some, Big Country and Status Quo. Beloius Some, an emerging act from the dance scene, was probably a bad choice for a Queen concert and wasn't received well by the audience.

Status Quo (photographed in 1978)
Status Quo (photographed in 1978) | Source

Status Quo

Status Quo were on next and their performance went down much better. They would normally have been expected to appear as the penultimate act and appear just before Queen, but apparently they had to rush off to another gig that they were playing later that day.

During the Status Quo gig, there was an amusing incident when a roadie climbed on top of the stage and played a cut out guitar whilst headbanging to the music. The rumour is that Status Quo were so annoyed about being upstaged by the roadie, they sacked him!

Most of us in this business are insecure little show-offs.

— Francis Rossi (Status Quo)

Big Country

Next up were the Scottish band, Big Country, who were very big in the mid 1980s, but have since faded from public memory to some degree. Their lead singer was Stuart Adamson (who tragically died in 2001).

Their music was folk-influenced and their clever trick was to use sound effects to get their guitars to sound like bagpipes. They seemed like an odd choice for a Queen support band to me, but they played a decent set of music and went down reasonably well with the audience.

Queen Performance

In true bombastic style, Queen arrived at Knebworth Park by helicopter. They played a two hour set which was greeted by a rapturous response from the audience.

As I mentioned in my introduction, nobody knew that this would be Freddie Mercury’s final performance with Queen at the time (according to Mercury’s partner, he wasn’t diagnosed as HIV positive until the following year, and he didn’t announce publicly that he was ill with AIDS until the day before his death in 1991).

Nevertheless, Mercury seemed to be in great spirits and full of energy that day. Queen delivered a stunning set, full of energy and slickness to a deliriously enthusiastic audience.

The Queen Line Up That Day

Freddie Mercury (vocals, piano, guitar)

Brian May (guitar, backing vocals, keyboards)

John Deacon (bass guitar)

Roger Taylor (drums, backing vocals)

Spike Edney (keyboards, piano, guitar, backing vocals)

When I'm dead, I want to be remembered as a musician of some worth and substance.

— Freddie Mercury

The finale involved a particularly emotional rendition of God Save The Queen. Whether Freddie knew by then that he might be seriously ill and he was saying goodbye to his adoring fans, I really don’t know for certain. But the fact was, however, that we were witnessing the final concert of Freddie Mercury and Queen.

There is no official film of the concert, although there is some low quality amateur footage. The audio was captured in high quality, however, and much of it used in the Queen: Live Magic album .


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    • profile image

      Judy Perry 

      4 months ago

      I saw Queen live in concert in September 1980 at Boston Gardens. It was the best rock concert I ever been to. Still a huge Queen fan!

    • profile image

      Heather Riley 

      5 months ago

      I was at this concert, 24 yrs old, and until now never realized it was Queen's last. This was pre-big screen and I'm 5 ft tall. I don't think I'd been to an outdoor concert before. I went with my friend Ann-Marie and we watched the opening acts at a fantastic spot maybe 25 rows back from the stage. There was room to breath. Then Queen came on and the crowd surged forward. We had to go with them. The music was amazing but I never really got to see more than the tops of their heads. The ground in front of the stage was like a bowl, so as we were pushed forward we ended up lower than we were. Unfortunately I was at armpit height. Some nice guy hoisted me on my shoulders at some point, but then those behind hurled empty (large) plastic bottles at my head so that ended that. Despite the armpits and guys peeing all around us it was epic. When we finally got back to the car it took 4-5 hours to get out of the park because someone had been stabbed and they were questioning everyone. I think Queen is unprecedented. Al of them amazing musicians and Freddie Mercury of course, one in a billion. Their music will live on and inspire forever. And the challenges of this concert for a short woman before big screens came on board did not negate an incredible memory and adventure. Bless them all xoxo

    • profile image


      7 months ago

      Saw them 3x in USA. Still really miss havimg them together. Great legacy but also somewhat sad at the same time.

    • profile image


      7 months ago

      Not to be picky, nancy, but it's Freddie, not Freddy.

    • profile image


      8 months ago

      I was only 18 when I went to this concert and I feel so lucky that I got to see Queen live.

    • profile image


      8 months ago

      Always loved Freddy Mercury ! I could (and do) listen to Queen over and over! They NEVER get old! I never was able to see them in person but my ears heat them often in my own home!

      Freddy, a HUGE talent lost WAY TO SOON!!! May he RIP!!

    • profile image

      Clive Robinson 

      9 months ago

      My then girlfriend surprised me with a pair of tickets for the knebworth concert, what a fantastic day! Little did we know it was his last concert.

      My girlfriend lost a shoe & a ski yogurt hit her in the back of the head! & a 4 hour trip to get back to Orpington.

      Fantastic day great memories, thanks jo .

    • profile image


      10 months ago

      I had the pleasure seeing queen in the united states. Aug 1982. I was only 19 and i couldn't have seen a better band. I cam still at 55 cry thinking how he died. He was amazing talent. Truly missed. Rip.

    • profile image


      10 months ago

      I was at the show as well. Queen was really on top of their game. The first and last time I ever saw them. We were about 100 yards from the stage - just amazing. The thing I recall about Big Country is that they played their big hit, In Big Country, early in the set .. then .. as an second encore they said "Hey .. this is the biggest crowd we've ever played to and we actually haven't rehearsed anything else, do you mind if we play In a Big Country again?" The crowd cheered and so they did!

    • profile image

      Mick from oz 

      11 months ago

      Never got see queen live however when a friend put on this music yes tape in 1980 I remember saying this sound and melody which was crazy little thing called love is very unique, and this queen band could be something big. Also said that about u2. Around same time. Reg Freddy Mercury he was the next big live performer to me after elvis.

      Whats most significant is these rock melodies from queen are excepted by people in their mid 20s today while band members are late 60’s.

      So very unique group.

    • profile image


      11 months ago

      Like Carole, saw them with Mott back in April 1974, Memphis TN. Once more with Freddie around 1980 in Oakland, CA. Lastly with Adam L. in Nashville.

    • profile image


      11 months ago

      I was there, way in the back (by the beer tents and toilets) until we saw the helicopter. Worked our way down to the front and ended up about 3 rows from the stage. Saw one of their first performances (back up to Mott the Hoople) and their last. Feel very fortunate.

    • profile image


      11 months ago

      Was at the concert,only 16 at the time was overwhelmed by the shear size of the crowd.Status Quo went down well I remember the roadie on top of the stage rig,Queen were on top form,brilliant day.

    • profile image

      Alan & Michelle 

      12 months ago

      I was at this concert and rember it as it was yesterday fantastic day and night

    • profile image

      Linda Wharton 

      14 months ago

      A day never goes by that I don't turn on my tv and watch a video of Queen with the Great Freddie Mercury ...Still brings tears many times to know he's gone...He was one of a kind!! No doubt he's still singing

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 

      5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      A true giant of a performer was Freddie Mercury. The way he got the fans in the palm of his hand at Live Aid was very special. That piercing voice and strutting dynamic figure. What a man!! Let's not forget the other members of Queen, all supreme in their own way, allowing Freddie the freedom to do what he did.

      I envy you a little seeing him at Knebworth (I was at Knebworth 1976 for the Stones!).

      Thanks for the personal slant. Voted up and shared.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Freddie already had full blown AIDS when he was diagnosed in '87! AND Kaposi's Sarcoma! What's amazing is how he managed to hang on another four and a half years, at a time when there were no treatments. Its wonderful that you got to see them at their very last concert with Freddie. He really went out on top.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      OMG Queen playing here again. With Adam Lambert on vocals! What an honor!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      Michael Donnelly 

      7 years ago

      I was at the knebwoth show brilliant day never forget it.

      Was lucky enough to have seen Queen seven times x

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 

      8 years ago

      Freddie Mercury was one of the most Talented performers...and eveyrtime I hear "We are the Champions my friend, we'll go on Fighting till the end"... I say a silent prayer of thanks to him, and his great Talent, which was taken away much too soon, in his battle against Aids. Wonderful walk down Memory Lane Paul, and thanks for the Video.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      8 years ago from North-East UK

      I saw them at Edinburgh Ingleston Hall in June 1982 and it was AMAZING! Freddie was the ultimate showman, you really felt a bond with him as a performer. I remember being up on the shoulders of a lovely American US Airforce guy stationed near there so I had a great view. Everyone sang "Love of My Life' and Freddie conducted us - brilliant atmosphere! This is a great hub, made me realise how much he's missed. Voted up, interesting & awesome.


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