Not only was Freddie Mercury known for projecting extravagance in both his music and public persona, but that sensibility also reflected in the legendary Queen singer’s personal interests and tastes. His Garden Lodge home in Kensington, West London, where he resided from 1980 up until his death in 1991, contained numerous magnificent objects such as fine art, costumes, decorative pieces of furniture, and most notably the handwritten lyrics to some of the biggest hits he wrote for Queen.
Decades later, those objects from the singer’s collection will go on the auction block via Sotheby’s starting Wednesday—the day after what would’ve been his 77th birthday (Highlights of “Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own” were shown this summer in New York City, Los Angeles and Hong Kong, while a main exhibit featuring the full collection continues in London through Tuesday). Proceeds from the auction will be donated to the Mercury Phoenix Trust and the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
Garden Lodge had been entrusted in the care of Mary Austin, one of the singer’s closest and dearest friends, following his death. According to David Macdonald, Sotheby’s London head of single owner sales, the auction had been in the works since the beginning of 2023. “There have been so many different stages to the project, from the unforgettable moment I stepped into Garden Lodge for the very first time,” he recalls, “to the cataloguing of these 1,500 or so lots over many months (involving specialists from over 20 different collecting categories) to the arrival of all the property in our New Bond Street galleries ready for installing the exhibition.
“It has been an incredibly collaborative process at every stage – of course with Mary Austin, but also with some of the people he worked collaboratively with in costumes and many of Freddie’s friends who have been so kind as to share their own recollections of pieces in the collection. And that process of archaeology – of peeling back the layers of history surrounding each object – still continues today. Now that the exhibition is open and all the lots are available online, we are learning more everyday from people who knew him and have their own stories to tell.”
The objects featured in the auction is a nostalgic journey into the singer’s life and career as well as Queen’s history. There’s the ivory satin outfit that he wore for the groundbreaking “Bohemian Rhapsody” video along with star-shaped sunglasses similar to the ones featured in the promotional clip of “We Will Rock You.” The memorable crown and cloak he donned during Queen’s 1986 Magic Tour and the opulent outfit he sported for his 39th birthday party will also be up for bidding, as well as other curious items as such as his Tiffany and Co. mustache comb and Adidas high-top sneakers. Additionally prints and works on paper from such artists as Picasso and Matisse, plus a kimono and an acoustic guitar also grace the collection.
“It celebrates the superstar the world remembers, but at the same time also reveals his refined private taste,” says Macdonald. “All these months on, I am still blown away by the seeing his showstopping stage costumes, or the handwritten lyrics to songs that continue to provide the soundtrack to our lives today.
“However, it’s been equally thrilling to discover the quieter pieces in the collection – the art deco furniture, the French glass, the Japanese art,” he continues. “These are all areas that he not only loved to collect but did so in depth and with real understanding. The personal pieces in the collection – those he perhaps brought back with him from tours, or bid on in our auction room – tell us so much about who he really was.
To a Queen fan, the crown jewel of the auction has to be the singer’s autograph manuscript draft lyrics for the iconic “Bohemian Rhapsody” from 1974 (worth an estimated £800,000 – 1,200,000), followed by other handwritten draft lyrics to “We Are the Champions” (£200,000–300,000) and “Killer Queen” (£50,000–70,000).
“It’s hard to overstate the significance of a song like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and these handwritten lyrics are its source code, revealing its foundations and secrets,” explains Macdonald. “We’d consider it a landmark event if they alone were being offered for sale, however the offering of so many lyrics for all these incredible songs, coming directly from a musician’s estate is simply unprecedented.
Macdonald says the most valuable offering in the sale is Mercury’s Yamaha Baby Grand piano, estimated at £2 million-3 million. “This is the perfect pairing to “Bohemian Rhapsody” and to all the lyrics, being the working instrument on which he composed songs from “Bohemian Rhapsody” onwards. The is the tool with which he brought his vision to the world, the nuclear reactor when it came to his creativity! Almost like a painter’s palette, this was Freddie’s chosen medium for his art. It was at the heart of his home and kept in pristine condition.”
He adds that the sale is a celebration of the singer “and doing something we hope he would have enjoyed. He loved auctions – much of the art on offer was bought this way (the sale even includes some of his marked-up Sotheby’s auction catalogues) – so it felt entirely natural to follow the auction route and to put on a show his fans could really enjoy. 75,000 people have so far visited our exhibition with still almost a fortnight to go. He was such a good client we really do owe it to him.”
The Sotheby’s official describes his involvement for this endeavor as a privilege. “Like for many people, Freddie Mercury’s voice and music has been omnipresent in my life,” he says. “I can’t remember a time I first heard his music as it’s simply always been there.
“When I first stepped through the door of Garden Lodge,” Macdonald continues, “I felt almost as if I were entering Tutankhamen’s tomb – there were so many treasures inside waiting to be discovered. However if I must highlight a few – there’s a school poetry book signed “Fred Bulsara” and filled with his pencil notes. I love this because it takes us right back to the beginning when he was just Freddie, before he joined a band, before fame. There’s also a Faberge clock which pulls so many threads in the collection together. It’s highly personal, being that it stood on his bedside table. It’s by a fabulous maker that screams luxury, and dates from the early 20th century, a period he loved. And it was bought at auction – at Sotheby’s in fact. We even have the auction catalogue he marked up for the sale.”
Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own auction via Sotheby’s will commence on September 6.