Just over a month ago, The Music Man reported on the once-in-a-lifetime, free exhibition of Freddie Mercury’s possessions at Sotheby’s, London. Mercury left his possessions to his self-described best friend, Mary Austin. Nearly 32 years after Mercury’s untimely death in 1991, Austin decided to put the items up for auction. The lots were beautifully and meticulously curated and displayed by Southerly’s for a full month prior to auction. It was an exhibition fit for, well, a Queen.
The Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own auction was divided into six sales including The Evening Sale (6 September 2023), On Stage (7 Sept), At Home (8 Sept) and In Love With Japan (an online auction that ran from 11 August to 11 Sept). How did the auctions go? Very well, thank you. Sotheby’s predicted that the black-tie premiere auction, The Evening Sale, would make £7.2 million (high estimate). This sale included Freddie’s artworks, costumes, handwritten lyrics, and baby grand. Here’s a video:
Every lot on The Evening Sale sold, making £12.2 million with fees, nearly twice the estimated high value and exceeding the high value estimate for the entire auction. On 13 September 2023, Bloomberg reported that the complete auction netted £39.9 million, “greatly exceeding the £7.6 million to £11.3 million estimate that auction house Sotheby’s in London originally forecast.”
Reports on The Evening Sale comment on the surreal opening of the event, where Sotheby’s staff members banged out the We Will Rock You rhythm on their desks. The Vulture is amusing: “We’re used to seeing this at football games, professional wrestling matches, and rowdy weddings, so it was an odd sight watching auctioneers – in sparkly gowns of various tawdry hues and tuxedos that ranged from boringly standard to maroon-velvet double-breasted – behaving like soccer hooligans.” Let’s have a look:
One understands Mary Austin’s need to relinquish ownership of Freddie Mercury’s belongings. She is no longer young, and looking after the belongings of a deceased famous friend is not without its burdens. She had two options essentially: some kind of Freddie Mercury museum or sell them. She chose to auction them, but in a manner that displayed the grandeur of Freddie Mercury to the world. A significant proportion of the proceeds are going to charity.
On the eve of The Evening Sale, Brian May posted on Instagram: “Tomorrow … Freddie’s most intimate personal effects, and writings that were part of what we shared for so many years, will go under the hammer, to be knocked down to the highest bidder and dispersed forever. I can’t look. To us, his closest friends and family, it’s too sad.” Just as one can see Austin’s perspective, one understands Brian May’s sadness. It’s tough losing a good friend and bandmate.
The last word can go to Mary Austin, who supported Mercury financially before his career took off, and who Freddie Mercury chose as his heir: “I’m 72. I’m heading towards, hopefully, being an octogenarian and I just felt that this had to be done in my lifetime. I looked at everything and thought, we’ve had our journey. All these artifacts, most of them are antique; they’ve travelled the years, from the 1800s to today, they’ve had various owners, they’ve been loved and cherished – that’s why they’re in such good condition. And now is their journey to their new owner.” Mary said that she walked around the house just before everything was taken away and imagined each item in its new life. “And not one of them was sorry to leave. And I just wished them lots of love and good luck in their new homes. And with some it was, ‘Wow, haven’t seen you for a while, bye!’ I’m not Miss Havisham.”