Mary Austin: Her Epic Romance with Freddie Mercury
Who Was Mary Austin?
History is brimming with iconic romances: Romeo and Juliet, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, John Lennon and Yoko Ono....and Freddie Mercury and Mary Austin. Mary wasn’t a celebrity, but she was a supernova in Freddie’s world.
Mary, Freddie's soulmate and creative muse, was born in 1951 to a struggling working-class family in Fulham, West London. Her father was a wallpaper trimmer and her mother was a maid. Both parents were deaf and had to communicate with sign language and lip reading.
To help make ends meet, Mary dropped out of school at age 15 and became a receptionist. Shortly afterwards, she entered the glamorous world of high fashion, working at Biba, a boutique frequented by superstars such as Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger. This is where she and Freddie would become lovestruck. But first....
Brian May Gets to Mary Before Freddie
Before Freddie and Mary crossed paths, she and Queen guitarist, Brian May, dated. But the relationship never took off, and they amicably parted ways. Brian introduced her to the blokes in a fledgling band he was in, that would become one of the most sensational groups in music history: Queen. Unbeknownst to Mary, their singer -- Freddie Mercury -- was smitten with her.
Now Freddie's Ready
Freddie's infatuation drove him to regularly linger at Biba, simply so he could spend time around Mary. But it took this otherwise bold, swaggering singer an entire six months to finally ask her out. He was 24 and she was 19.
Even then, Freddie radiated a larger-than-life persona, which complemented Mary’s quieter demeanor. And he revealed to Mary a vulnerable, guarded side that was cloaked from the rest of the world. They both felt a profound connection. Only five months later they were living together as a couple. As Brian May said in Freddie Mercury: The Untold Story, “They were very sweet. They were like a married couple. This was obviously true love.”
Will You Marry Me?
On Christmas, 1973 (when she was 23), Mary received a gift that even Santa himself couldn't top -- a marriage proposal from her twin soul, Freddie Mercury. His proposal reflected the enormous creativity that surged throughout every area of his life, when he innocently presented Mary with a large box.
“Inside was another box, then another, and so it went on,” she said in a 2003 Daily Mail interview. “It was like one of his playful games. Eventually, I found a lovely jade ring inside the last small box.” Without hesitation, Mary joyously accepted Freddie's marriage proposal. Freddie immortalized Mary in the song, “Love of My Life,” an exquisite, haunting ballad.
Trouble in Paradise
After six years of companionship, marriage had yet to happen. Something was missing from the formerly passionate relationship. Freddie often came home late, and Mary feared that he was being unfaithful. In 1976, he finally revealed to her that he was gay and that he’d been spending time with other men. It was a bittersweet revelation but an honest one.
However, as Mary adjusted to the reality of Freddie’s sexual orientation, it became something she cherished about him. “I was supportive of him becoming gay because it was part of himself,” she said in Freddie Mercury: The Untold Story. “It was nice to see Freddie at one with himself. It was more than nice. It was wonderful.”
Despite his intimacy with men, Freddie declared, “All my lovers asked me why they couldn’t replace Mary, but it’s simply impossible. The only friend I’ve got is Mary, and I don’t want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage.”
Freddie’s mother, Jer Bulsara (who died in 2016) said of the relationship, “She was lovely and used to come to us for meals. I used to wish they had got married.”
An Unbreakable Bond
The connection between Freddie and Mary was deeper than mere physicality. Mary moved out, into a nearby apartment (bought for her by Freddie’s music publishing company), and the two still shared a love, adoration, and respect that defied eternity.
Mary also remained an integral part of Queen's inner circle. She worked as Freddie’s personal adviser, and as secretary for Queen’s publishing company, during the 80s, often touring with the band. In addition, she chose his opulent Edwardian mansion, Garden Lodge, and decorated its 28 rooms with Louis XV furniture. After Freddie’s death, the décor remained undisturbed. (As Mary said to The Daily Mirror: “He had impeccable style, so why change it?”)
Freddie was an ardent cat lover who had as many as 10 cats at a time and who valued them as though they were family. Tiffany, a long-haired blue point Siamese (and the only thoroughbred he ever had), was a present from Mary. He appointed her to be their caretaker after he died.
Freddie and Mary Move On
Although their friendship never wavered, Freddie and Mary each meandered into new liaisons. Mary got married twice. Her first husband was artist Piers Cameron, with whom she had two children, Richard (Freddie was his godfather) and Jamie. Overwhelmed and disgruntled by Mary’s unconventional relationship with Freddie, he walked out on her and the boys.
Mary’s second husband was a businessman named Nick Holford. They divorced after five years together.
Distraught after his breakup with Mary, Freddie remained single for a short time. He kept up a public façade of heterosexuality by dating Austrian actress, Barbara Valentin, while, in fact, dating German restaurateur Winfried Kirchberger at the same time. After the breakup of that relationship, Freddie found love and companionship with hairdresser Jim Hutton.
Shock and Disbelief
Mary was shattered upon learning of Freddie’s HIV diagnosis. His doctors broke the disastrous news to her, even before Freddie was informed about it. Unconditionally loyal, Mary took care of him until his final moments. In his memory, she established the Mercury Phoenix Trust, a charity established to globally combat AIDS and HIV.
An Inheritance Fit for a Queen
When Freddie died in 1991, he willed the lion’s share of his estate to Mary. He left his sumptuous multimillion dollar London palace to her -- rather than Jim -- saying, “You would have been my wife, and it would have been yours anyway.” He also gave her half of his $75 million fortune, all of his vast publishing royalties and record sales, and his art collection. His mother supported his lavish generosity toward Mary, stating that Mary was like a family member.
Freddie also entrusted Mary to bury his ashes in an undisclosed location -- a location that was even withheld from his parents. “He didn’t want anyone trying to dig him up, as has happened to some famous people,” she told The Daily Mail. “Fans can be deeply obsessive. He wanted it to remain a secret and it will remain so.”
Mark Blake, Freddie’s biographer and author of Is This the Real Life: The Untold Story of Freddie Mercury and Queen said, “He effectively left a lot to her, as if he was leaving it to his widow.”
Mary Struggles Without Freddie
After Freddie’s death, Mary felt helplessly adrift. She was struck with several acute illnesses; her mental health deteriorated as she tried to cope with her inheritance. “I found myself thinking, “Oh Freddie, you’ve left me too much and too much to deal with, as well,” she told The Daily Mail. "I felt I couldn’t live up to it.”
Now 67, Mary lives a quiet life (she’s said to be reclusive) in the mansion that was so generously bestowed to her by Freddie. Theirs was a monumental love that she still misses and pines for. “I lost my family, really, when Freddie died,” she told the Daily Mail. “He was everything to me, apart from my sons. He was like no one I had met before.”