When Freddie Mercury first met Mary Austin, he was 24 years old and she was 19. At the time neither could have imagined what the future would hold for them, both as a couple and singularly as friends with a deep love for each other.
“All my lovers asked me why they couldn’t replace Mary, but it’s simply impossible,” Mercury once said of Austin. “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.”
When Mercury died in 1991 of AIDS-related bronchial pneumonia at age 45, Austin was by his side. At one point in their relationship he had asked her to marry him, and when he died he left her half his reported $75 million estate, including the 28-room London mansion in which he passed away and Austin still lives in to this day.
Mercury and Austin met in 1969, when she waa working at the fashionable London clothing store Biba. Here she bumped into Mercury, who had just completed art college and worked in a clothing stall in nearby Kensington. Austin was initially hesitant about the sometimes larger-than-life Mercury, but they were soon a couple living in a cramped flat together as he worked on his music career. “He was like no one I had ever met before,” Austin told OK! Magazine in 2000. “He was very confident, and I have never been confident. We grew together. I liked him – and it went on from there.”
in 1973, the year Queen’s eponymous debut album was released, Mercury asked her to marry him. “When I was 23 he gave me a big box on Christmas Day. Inside 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,” Austin told the Daily Mail in 2013. Not understanding what was going on, Austin asked Mercury on which hand should she place it. He replied the left and asked her to marry him. “I was shocked. It just so wasn’t what I was expecting. I just whispered, ‘Yes. I will.’”
Six years after, things began to change.
Six years into their relationship marriage was no longer being discussed and Austin began to think something was wrong. She decided to discuss the matter with Mercury. “I told him, ‘Something is going on and I just feel like a noose around your neck. I think it’s time for me to go,’” she recalled to OK! Mercury insisted nothing was wrong. Austin recalls the relationship cooling after that, the same time the band was experiencing incredible success.
Returning home later and later most nights, Austin thought Mercury was having an affair with another woman. But in 1976, already an international star, he decided to discuss his evolving sexual feelings with her. “I’ll never forget that moment,” Austin told the Daily Mail. “Being a bit naive, it had taken me a while to realize the truth. Afterward, he felt good about having finally told me he was bisexual. Although I do remember saying to him at the time, ‘No Freddie, I don’t think you are bisexual. I think you are gay.’”
The revelation ended their physical relationship and Austin moved to a nearby flat purchased for her by Mercury’s music-publishing company. Yet she remained part of the band’s extended circle.
“He kept her close by when he became ill,” says biographer Blake. “The fact that she was so well looked after in the will. She got the house and a share of the publishing. He effectively left a lot to her as if he was leaving it to his widow. 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.”