The Whitby actor who plays Freddie Mercury’s dad in the new film Bohemian Rhapsody has recalled the time the flamboyant frontman of Queen gave him a tenner for singing outside his house.
Ace Bhatti and a friend were students at a theatre in London which backed on to Mercury’s home and they decided, one Christmas, to perform outside the property for the singer.
“I had started to play the guitar, knew about three chords, and me and a friend who were huge Queen fans, said ‘let’s go to Freddie’s house, do some carols and try to mix them with Queen songs,” Bhatti, 49, told the Whitby Gazette.
“There was a big wall, and on the wall was a door with a camera on.
“We knocked on the door and the camera popped out and we started singing Queen songs interspersed with Christmas songs. It was terrible.
“We heard heavy footsteps and the biggest man I have ever seen stood there; he was so tall, only slivers of light came out of his shoulders. I thought at this point he was going to knock me out.
“He smiled really nicely and said ‘Freddie likes your singing, boys, here’s a tenner each.
“In my head, when we did it I thought we would get invited in, it was stupid.”
Unfortunately, Mercury was extremely poorly at the time as he battled AIDS and he died a year later, in 1991.
Now, a generation on, Bhatti is playing the singer’s father, Bomi Bulsara. And it is a relationship even diehard fans would know little about.
“The role, really, is to reveal Freddie’s history, where he came from and the fact that he was chased out of Zanzibar,” said Bhatti, who hailed Mercury as an exceptional talent.
“Most people don’t know that about him,” he said.
“There’s the initial thing of breaking away from his family; I don’t want to give too much away but hopefully we will see some sort of reconciliation. No-one would fully know the story of Freddie and his father. What I had to go on was photos and stuff people had written, and the script, and from there we built the character.”
Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara, of Parsi descent, before moving to England with his family in his late teens. Mercury wrote numerous hits for Queen, including the epic Bohemian Rhapsody, Killer Queen, Somebody to Love and Don’t Stop Me Now.
He led a solo career while performing with Queen, and occasionally served as a producer and guest musician for other artists, but kept his illness private, despite long-running press speculation, only announcing it the day before he died.
Bhatti sees the film as “the ultimate immigration story.”
Growing up as part of a working class family in the 70s, when racism was rife, Bhatti said there were two people he looked up to – Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan and Mercury.
“If you want young Asian men to be part of society, you need good strong role models,” he said.
“What shocks me even today is that people say ‘I didn’t realise he [Mercury] was Asian as he kept it so well hidden.
“It’s been fantastic for me to be able to show that this is what he really was and where he came from.”
Bhatti is hoping to catch the film in his hometown when it shows at Whitby Pavilion cinema, from November 24 to 29.