di Alexey Zakharov - Russian Queen VK Community
English translation kindly provided to Comunità Queeniana Italiana
In a hope to clear some misconceptions, we reached out to Jim's co-writer, Tim Wapshott. He kindly agreed to answer the questions for our Queen VK.com community.
A mutual friend approached me and introduced me to Jim shortly after Freddie Mercury’s death. It was obvious that Jim had been on quite a journey with Freddie, and was struggling to come to terms with his loss.
So, it was Jim's idea to write a book, and you were asked to help him?
Jim wanted to do the book. I think he felt writing Mercury and Me would be hugely cathartic, a way to exorcise his enduring grief.
What was the writing process like?
We got on very well and, once Jim got to know me a little better, he really opened up freely. There was nothing he wasn’t prepared to talk about directly and honestly. There was nothing devious or self-important about him. It’s difficult to work on a book for many months with someone that you do not like or respect - but fortunately I both liked and respected Jim very much. He was straight-forward and down to earth as he pored over the extraordinary life and partnership that he’d had with such an extraordinary person.
The book is obviously structured like a series of interviews. Did you ask Jim many questions, or mostly listened to his stories?
Working with someone on a memoir tends to be a mix of both.
Were the interviews conducted chronologically, from the beginning to the end of the story, or more or less in random order?
I think it was fairly chronological, yes, when blocking the story.
How involved was Jim in the editing process?
Not at all. Jim was not a writer.
Were there things that were particularly difficult for Jim to talk about?
Of course. It is difficult to lose those you care about at the best of times, but to do so with the world’s media camped outside your home because your partner happened to be one of the most famous people on the planet brings added burdens. Jim was upset that the world’s press circled, as he saw it, like vultures at their home Garden Lodge as Freddie’s battle with AIDS was drawing to a close. Reliving the moment that Freddie died in his arms was obviously extremely traumatic, as were telling me some of the things that happened to him after he had lost the love of his life.
How much of the written material didn't make it to the final book, and why?
Precious little! I think we included every important memory in Jim’s memoir.
Jim said in the book and later reiterated in an interview that he thought that Freddie was "coerced" into make a statement about his AIDS status. Did he tell you why he thought so in more detail?
No, it was just his hunch.
What was the general reaction to the book after the publication?
Very good. It was widely well received, especially by Queen fans around the world, which was very important to Jim. After Freddie’s death, he enjoyed going to the odd fan convention and meeting up with people who loved Freddie every bit as much as he did. The book has also found its place in LGBT history, for charting a personal story of the devastation of AIDS against a backdrop at the time of homophobic backlash in the UK - these were dark, unenlightened times of prejudice and ignorance. The arrival of the Bohemian Rhapsody film has even seen the book return to the sales charts, especially in the US, as fans are seeking more about Jim Hutton for themselves, eager to hear first-hand from the man the singer called ‘my husband’. I’m sure Jim would be very flattered.
Did the homophobic prejudice in the UK affect people's perception of Freddie Mercury while he was still alive, and in which way? Was his sexuality "obvious", or, on the contrary, most people didn't even have a clue?
I think Freddie was just Freddie - anyone who thought about these things and was remotely intelligent would probably work out Freddie was gay. Then again, he didn’t especially hide his sexuality - he just didn’t want to answer to grubby and salacious British tabloid reporters what his sexuality was, and who can blame him?! Fortunately, today in the UK homophobia and prejudice based on sexuality are simply seen for what they are: hate crimes.
You surely remember the first rumours about Freddie having AIDS in the newspapers. How seriously were they taken by the media and general public?
I don’t think the general public really knew or cared one way or another - and the newspapers were only interested because it was a story.
Did you and Jim expect/fear possible negative reactions to the book, and were there any?
Not for a moment. His was a tender love story.
We heard some bizarre rumours about Queen representatives and/or Freddie's family members trying to take legal action against Jim and his book. Is there any truth in them?
I can confirm that no legal action was ever taken against Jim Hutton and/or his best-selling memoir Mercury and Me - nor was any legal action of any kind ever mooted, for the simple reason that Jim was there and his compelling and moving story is true.
I always understood that the remaining members of Queen knew and liked Jim and felt his pain when he lost Freddie. In fact, when we published the Kindle edition of the book a few years ago, Brian May even promoted it on his own website.
There has never been an issue with the book, nor with Freddie’s family members, or Jim’s.
It was perfectly serviceable I guess, I haven’t given it a lot of thought.
In the movie, Freddie befriends Jim while already knowing he's AIDS-positive. Was it a good decision by screenwriters?
It wasn’t accurate, so I can’t say if that was a good decision. Freddie’s illness hadn’t been diagnosed let alone confirmed by the time he played Live Aid.
Did you meet Freddie Mercury, his bandmates, friends or family members in person?
I did meet Freddie, at a party he threw at Garden Lodge. As you might expect, the hospitality was second to none! And I still see Brian May and/or his wife Anita at the odd social from time to time. Through writing the book I got to know Jim’s great chum Martha and last saw her a few years ago when she came along to help launch the updated Kindle edition of Mercury and Me - as did lovely Jackie Gunn from the UK-based Queen Fan Club.
Can you tell us a bit more about that Garden Lodge party? What was Freddie like?
Freddie was rather shy and left a lot of the revellers to it. I think I was there for an impromptu birthday bash thrown for Peter Straker - so there were quite a lot of guests Freddie would not have known and in such situations he tended to discreetly make himself scarce!
What kind of person was Jim? Was it easy to work with him?
Jim was kind and gentle. He was usually a quiet, reserved and rather introverted chap but he could let his hair down - and then loved nothing more than to laugh and make others laugh. For all his troubles, he was a happy soul who was content with his lot. Jim loved nurturing things, too - whether it was plants in the garden that flourished under his care or assorted cats and dogs that always made a bee-line for him.
Can you share some funny story about Jim, either during the writing of the book or after?
All the interviews for the book were recorded at Jim's home in Ravenscourt Park. His cats sat in on most of them! They would come in and plonk themselves down next to Jim every time - once they were comfortable we could begin.
Did you stay in touch after the book was published?
Yes. Jim remained in London for a few years after Freddie died but by the end of the nineties he had quietly slipped back to Ireland where he lived in the home he had built next to his mum’s house. He did not come back to London much after that but we’d chat on the phone from time to time. I felt he had definitely found a form of contentment there that he could not find all the time that he remained in London bereft of his dear Freddie.
When did you see or speak to Jim for the last time?
Not sure. Perhaps 18 months before he died maybe?
Thanks for your answers! We appreciate your help Mr. Wapshott!