The Truth About Freddie Mercury's Relationship With His Ex-Fiance

For a 2018 piece on Freddie Mercury and Mary Austin, Lesley-Ann Jones, author of Bohemian Rhapsody: The Definitive Biography, described to the New York Post a domestic scene that defined their relationship, which started in 1969 and continued to Mercury's death in 1991: "He would chuck a tube of toothpaste that was half-used into the waste bin and she would go into the bin and get it back and roll the toothpaste back up . . . and [say], 'You finish the tube. You can't be wasteful like this, Freddie.' He would say: 'But I'm the richest guy in the world!' And she would say, 'I don't care. You don't throw away money.'" Apparently, Freddie Mercury would only ever consent to being bossed around like that by her, even after their engagement ended. 

In 2000, Mary Austin described how she met Freddie Mercury to OK! Magazine. They met at Biba, a London fashion store that ran in the 60s and 70s, in 1969 where she worked customer PR and Freddie Mercury operated a fashion stall in Kensington Market with Roger Taylor, Queen's drummer. He later asked her out on his 24th birthday, but she refused: "I was trying to be cool." However, she relented the next day and they went to see Mott the Hoople. Shortly after, they shared a studio apartment in Kensington for two years. Then when Queen released their first hit Seven Seas of Rhye, they moved into a flat.

Engagement and disengagement

It was at this time that Freddie Mercury proposed to Mary Austin. On Christmas Day in 1973, he gave her a big box. Inside, as she described to The Daily Mail, was another box: "[Then] another and so it went on. It was like one of his playful games. Eventually, I found a lovely jade ring inside the last small box." Confused, she asked where she should put it on. "Ring finger, left hand," he answered. Then he elaborated "Because, will you marry me?" She accepted.

The marriage, however, never took place. As Queen grew ever more successful, their relationship cooled. Freddie Mercury started staying out to increasingly late hours, prompting Austin to wonder whether he was sleeping with another woman. The tension mounted until 1976 when he finally sat her down to talk. He was bisexual. "'No Freddie,'" Austin remembers saying, "'I don't think you are bisexual. I think you are gay.'"

After that, according to Refinery29, their physical relationship ended, but their connection deepened. Freddie Mercury bought her a flat nearby his apartment and employed her as his personal assistant. Austin would go on to marry twice, first to a painter named Piers Cameron and had two sons with him. Later, she married a businessman called Nick Holford, a relationship that only lasted five years. "[Piers] always felt overshadowed by Freddie," Austin explained to OK! Magazine. "Freddie had widened the tapestry of my life so much... There was no way I'd want to desert him ever."

A friend for life

Although Freddie Mercury maintained a relationship with Jim Hutton for the final seven years of his life, he still seemed to keep a unique place for her in his heart. In a 1985 interview — about the time his relationship with Hutton began — he declared that "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. We believe in each other, that's enough for me."

Lest anyone think that these feelings dissipated with his new relationship, Freddie Mercury left his London home, a 28-room Edwardian mansion, as well as £9 million to her in his will. In a widely quoted explanation to Austin about why he would do this, he said "You would have been my wife and it would have been yours anyway."

The reason for Freddie Mercury's devotion seems to be that she was always there. As Mark Blake, author of Is This the Real Life?: The Untold Story of Freddie Mercury and Queen, tells Biography, "Mary was probably good at keeping him grounded. She had been there before the money, before the fame and she was there at the end." Surrounded by sycophants as any rock icon is,  the time with spent with Mary Austin in their studio before the fame and money came in proved her friendship.

The end

Having stayed with Mercury throughout his battle with AIDs, their relationship intensified as the focus on his diminishing life did. "During those times I did really feel such love for him," Austin remembers, "They were the moments I remembered every time I looked at his bed. I would sit every day next to the bed for six hours, whether he was awake or not. He would suddenly wake up and smile and say, 'Oh, it's you, old faithful.'" 

So, of course, Austin was devastated when he finally chose to die. "It was the loneliest and most difficult time of my life after Freddie died," she admitted in the OK! Magazine profile. It took her five years before she could even feel comfortable in the house he left her. 

But perhaps most tellingly, she too expressed a feeling that a kind of marriage had occurred between the two: "I lost somebody who I thought was my eternal love. When he died I felt we'd had a marriage. We'd lived our vows. We'd done it for better for worse, for richer for poorer. In sickness and in health. You could never have let go of Freddie unless he died. Even then it was difficult." It was, by most people's standards, a strange relationship. However, the amount they gave each other and trusted each other saw them through situations that would prove insurmountable for many others.