Freddie Mercury would often call home while on the road and ask to speak to his beloved cats. Whoever was on the receiving end would pick one up and give it a little squeeze, according to longtime assistant Peter Freestone, just so the Queen front man could hear a few meows.
“His cats were his family,” Freestone told The Washington Post.
It makes sense, then, that they appear in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the new Queen biopic featuring Rami Malek as the band’s illustrious lead vocalist. While Malek has been widely praised for his portrayal, the same cannot be said for, well, any other aspect of the film. So instead, let’s focus on what everyone can agree deserves our attention: the cats.
An early scene features at least six of his pets, but Freestone could name 10 cats Mercury had throughout his 45 years: Dorothy, Tiffany, Tom, Jerry, Delilah, Goliath, Lily, Miko, Oscar and Romeo, the last six of whom outlived their owner. Mercury shared Tom and Jerry with Mary Austin, a romantic partner-turned-friend he once referred to as his “common-law wife,” played in the film by Lucy Boynton. She gave him Tiffany, the only thoroughbred cat he ever had, according to Freestone.
The rest were adopted from shelters or animal hospitals “to save their lives, basically,” Freestone explained, adding that Mercury was “the kindest, most generous, loyal friend anybody could wish to have.”
The singer’s phone calls to his cats made it into “Bohemian Rhapsody,” when the on-screen Mercury asks Austin if she can put Tom or Jerry on the line. Freestone consulted on the project throughout production and, though he had not seen the film’s final cut at the time of the interview, he said it was apparent the set and production designers wanted to make it seem “as real as possible, you know?”
This meant dressing the set of Mercury’s Garden Lodge estate in lavish curtains and ornate furniture, the latter of which is mentioned in “Delilah,” which Mercury wrote and performed for his last album with Queen. The song serves as an ode to his favorite cat, the tortoiseshell: “You make me so very happy / When you cuddle up and go to sleep beside me / And then you make me slightly mad / When you pee all over my Chippendale suite."
While Mercury didn’t actually have a Chippendale suite, Freestone clarified, he did have a dining room of furniture created in a similar style. Freestone said he clearly remembered the incident in which the cats urinated on floor-to-ceiling racing-green curtains that had been drawn closed, which left yellow arch-shaped stains at the bottom.
“[Mercury] went, ‘Who’s done it? Who’s done this?' — thinking someone had spilled bleach,” Freestone recalled. “Soon it was pointed out: ‘Look at the height. Look where it is. It’s the cats.’ And that was the only room they were ever forbidden from.”
Freestone started working for Mercury in November 1979, a month after they met, when Freestone was handling wardrobe for the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House in London. He stayed on the job until the end of February 1992 — three months after Mercury died from AIDS-related complications. Rolling Stone wrote in 2014 that one of Mercury’s “final actions was stroking [Delilah’s] fur.”
That loving nature comes across in a scene in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” in which Mercury exclaims that, in his new home, each cat has its own bedroom. As Jim Hutton, Mercury’s partner of seven years, wrote in his memoir, “Freddie treated the cats like his own children.”