By the summer of 1985, Queen was a successful band that had started to draw negative publicity. There was talk that the band was past its prime and front man Freddie Mercury’s sexuality was under scrutiny in the “gutter press”.
After a phenomenal twenty-one-minute performance at Live Aid, Queen’s position as an all-time great rock band was secure. How could such a brief performance make such an impact? The short answer is that Live Aid was the most widely viewed broadcast in television history and Queen stole the show.
Live Aid was a benefit concert to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia. Thanks to the ambition of its organisers and its stellar line up, the event grew beyond all expectations. In the end, the 16-hour broadcast on Saturday 13 July 1985 began at London’s Wembley Stadium and continued from the John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia.
Through the magic of satellite link-ups, Live Aid was broadcast in 150 nations to an estimated 1.9 billion viewers, or nearly 40 percent of the world’s population! Queen played an evening slot at Wembley.
Freddie Mercury dazzled from the moment he jogged onto the stage. He used his charisma to make everyone in the huge stadium feel involved. During Queen’s six-song set, which showcased the bands biggest hits, Mercury got the 72,000 spectators singing along to refrains. In Radio Gaga, he led an astonishing improvisation which culminated in a wonderful bit of singing that has become known as “the note heard around the world”.
In the words of Live Aid organiser Bob Geldof, Queen was the best band of the day. This opinion is shared by critics and Queen at Live Aid is regarded as one of the best live rock music performances ever.
The Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) biopic has introduced Freddie Mercury and Queen to new generations of fans. Queen’s Live Aid performance is the dramatic highlight of the movie. It is also where the film makes greatest use of dramatic license. In a heart-breaking scene, Freddie Mercury reveals his Aids diagnosis to the band during a rehearsal for the concert. In reality, Freddie Mercury was diagnosed in April 1987, almost two years after the broadcast.
He died in November 1991. Thanks to his larger-than-life Live Aid performance, Freddie Mercury’s memory lives on.