Live Aid To Life Experience: It’s a Kind Of Magic, thanks to Queen and Freddie
The new movie, Bohemian Rhapsody, has received mixed reviews, but for me it’s a reminder to take life by the scruff and to remember We Are The Champions of our own life experience.
BOHEMIAN Rhapsody. The movie everyone is talking about. Last night, finally, I went to see it. A busy schedule, which included a business trip to Sicily and a visit to Italy in a week’s time, meant it had to be last night or no night.
To not see this musical spectacular on the big screen seemed like sacrilege — an insult to the memory of the great Freddie himself. So, it was happening. Nothing and I mean NOTHING was going to wipe this date out of the diary.
What did I think of the movie? Fabulous. I could wax lyrical, adopt my old film reviewer persona (throwback to my days as an arts editor where I reviewed films, theatre) but that’s not what I want to talk about.
I want to look at some of the feelings this film brought up and the teachings it delivered for me and may, hopefully, for you.
But first, (SPOILER ALERT!!) let me take you to one of the key movie moments.
Live Aid. July 13, 1985. Wembley Stadium (the old one without the Wembley Arch). Bob Geldof — a swearing and gesticulating Sir Bob (at least that’s how I remember it) and ‘gentle’ Midge Ure (lead singer of Ultravox, the ‘tashed one’ I fell so in love with whose rendition of Dancing With Tears In Their Eyes generated tears in my eyes too. There they were urging us to dig deep and raise funds to tackle the ongoing Ethiopian famine.
Just as an aside (Squirrel moment!), interesting that the Midge Ure effect meant several of my boyfriends had the same look as the Scottish songster for quite a few years. How things were to change in later life!
Anyway, back to the 80s and July 13. The day was my mum’s birthday. So, there we were, celebrating and watching the big box in the corner of the room (flat screens at this stage were a figment of a vivid imagination) as wave after wave of bands sang their hearts out to raise cash.
Billed as one of the largest scale satellite link-ups and live television broadcasts of all time, there was an estimated audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 countries. Nearly 40% of the world’s population, or at least that’s what Wiki tells us.
Amazing. Incredible. Mind blowing. Wow! And all the other superlatives.
Yet in one tiny corner of England less than 50 miles from Wembley where it was all happening, it was just a small part of the entertainment for the day. With so much celebration, laughter, candles, cake and conversation, it was a constant battle to adjust the volume when favourite bands or not so popular stars in our household took to the stage.
1985 BQ (Before Queen)
And now here comes the truly shocking bit. At this point I wasn’t a Queen fan. I know, I know, I can hear your gasps from here. Unfathomable. Disgraceful. I knew some of their music but at my age (17) they were ‘just another rock band’. Thank goodness, one of my family members was a fan and so when Queen took to the Wembley stage there was a definite hush in the room.
I listened and I watched. Mainly, if I’m honest, to see if I could spot my best friend in the crowd. She and her boyfriend had got tickets to this extravaganza and I knew they were right at the front near the stage (a near impossible task to spot them before being able to hit the pause button on live TV).
Only now, more than 30 years later, and while reliving this moment through the magic of the movies was I able to admit to myself I am just a teeny little bit jealous of this fact. Jealous of my mate’s Live Aid experience at Wembley on that day. But not just that. In this moment there was part of me jealous of her sense of adventure — of her openness and willingness to put herself in the middle of a sea of bodies, a massive crowd full of strangers, to soak up whatever the day would present to her. Something we should all aspire to perhaps?
Me? I haven’t done so much of this ‘taking life by the scruff’ and immersing myself in the experience until recent years. Throughout most of my teens, I became a prisoner in my own head and home. A place full of ‘what ifs’, ‘if only’, ‘I can’t do that’ and many other self-limiting statements. A place I can still go to on a bad day unless I have a strong word with myself.
Let me try and explain things a little. Discussions in my head around Live Aid might have gone something like this, although I can’t be sure. Memories can be skewed and can change and be over written in time. Just ask Dr Julia Shaw (author of The Memory Illusion) to explore that train of thought:
‘I can’t go to a concert. I might get robbed/hurt/lost.’ ‘What happens if I get crushed in the crowd?’, ‘How will I cope with those horrible portable toilets?’ ‘What if I can’t find my car/coach/best mate? — delete as applicable, ‘The food will be horrible and cost a fortune’ and on and on and on… And that’s before the awful events in Manchester. Now there are even more self-limiting beliefs with a more sinister overtone that can end up in the mix to stop you stepping out of that comfort zone.
Believe it or not, many of these thoughts flooded in as I watched the movie. Maybe it was the powerful combination of music that seeps into your soul blended with nostalgic memories of a time long before Trump, Brexit and the Kardashians. Who knows?
I didn’t expect them and I certainly wasn’t prepared for them. But there they were to bite me on the proverbial. Ouch!
Now, at this point I could have got maudlin — another of my default settings which I’m working hard to throw in the trash once and for all. Instead, as the film moved towards its powerful and moving FINALE (SPOILER ALERT so look away) with Freddie (Rami Malek) strutting his stuff on the Wembley stage, possibly with the knowledge that he was living on borrowed time, I thought about my ‘Live Aid’ moment. As ‘Freddie’ opened the 20-ish minute set with a beautiful rendition of part of Bohemian Rhapsody, the tears welled.
You see in my memory, filed away under ‘life experience’ I had always told myself that Live Aid, the event, came after my own version of a ‘Live Aid’ experience when I stepped out of that comfort zone in style. Wrong! It didn’t.
In fact it was a year later on Saturday, August 9, 1986 when I truly kicked all those doubting voices into touch. The ones that wanted to stop me being part of such an incredibly wonderful experience.
It’s A Kind Of Magic: Queen and Freddie at Knebworth
Despite those niggling worries and spurred on by my best friend Michelle at my side (she was my friend at Live Aid) I saw Queen and Freddie at Knebworth Park and it was incredible. They were incredible.
Michelle and I danced and sang, we raised a bottle or two (when we could find the elbow room) and yes, we joined in the fist pumping, hand claps, foot stomps and ‘aye os’ led by the showman himself.
Don’t get me wrong. There were moments that weren’t so wonderful but equally memorable (If, of course, I have remembered them accurately). Firstly, we took the coach to Hertfordshire (an experience I had convinced myself would result in vomit as ‘I’m not a good passenger’). It didn’t, of course. Yet another fear monkey trying to throw a spanner in the works. Remember FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real).
Then there were the crowds. Thousands of tall people (why does everyone seem tall — is it part of being in a stressed state?) or were there really? This is almost likely more evidence of ‘false memory’ although there’s no escaping the fact that I am only 5ft 2 and a bit on a good day!
What else? Lots of bodies close up, a little too close at times. An assault on the senses and that was before the music got going fully. So many sights, sounds, smells to take in. And as the day wore on a ‘heady’ mix of stale body odour, freshly applied body spray, hotdogs and fried onions and a rather sweet smell of something that I was yet to be introduced to.
People everywhere. Kissing. Laughing. Some dancing to a soundtrack only they could hear. People with music in their hips and their soul. Terrifying and intoxicating all at the same time.
And then there were the toilets. My first introduction to the joys of Portaloos happened on this day. They were not the Portaloos we use now, often complete with fancy furnishings and boy/girl colour schemes, I mean down and dirty (emphasis on the second word) 1980s style ‘bog standard’ (forgive the pun) loos.
After putting off the ‘experience’ I could resist no longer. My bladder was insistent and who was I to argue when we had hours of partying to do and a pretty long coach journey home.
I took a deep breath and joined the queue then waited and waited. It was a very long queue for the very ‘well used’ loo (so long in fact that by the time I got to the cubicle it was hardly worth the effort). Too stressed by my environment to pee? (the stench of the overflowing loos was enough to leave me feeling like an extra from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales). Possible. Dehydrated? More than likely with alcohol fast replacing the water in my system.
But this. All of this. The funny and the not so funny moments. The dancing, the laughing, the swearing, the smoking, the singing, the coach trip, the queues, the hotdogs, the beer, the day that turned into night. And that’s without even mentioning THAT moment. The moment when a band complete with large tashed power house of a singer took to the stage and weaved their magic on us all.
Experience. It was life experience. And if I hadn’t pushed through those self-limiting beliefs it would not have happened for me. An experience I am still talking about all these years later. When was your Live Aid, your Knebworth’ moment? Perhaps you’re still waiting for it. Don’t wait. Live it now!
Life experiences: life rafts for the future
Last night as I sat in that dark cinema with tears flowing this is what came. ‘Feel the fear, but don’t give into it. Embrace it and then tell it to do one!
However small or huge your fear is to you, don’t let it cripple you or hold you back. Don’t let it stop you from having lots of Live Aid or Knebworth experiences, providing you with such amazing moments to share with your nearest and dearest. They’re the life rafts that keep us afloat in the years ahead.
33 years ago on a July day I told the fear monkeys to do one and I’m so glad I did. If I hadn’t I would have missed out on my own personal Freddie memory. One tiny grain of sand in the timer, but an important one for me.
The Magic Tour across Europe in 1986 was Queen’s final tour with Freddie as their lead singer. On the evening of November 24, 1991 Freddie died at his Kensington home at the age of 45. Official cause of death was bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS.
Freddie must have told his fear monkeys to do one, over and over and look what gift he left for the world. His music, his beautiful, soaring voice. The kind of voice that gets audiences up and out of their seats, dancing to the same tune or their own tune. It matters not. A voice that makes the hairs on the back of your arms stand up. A voice that can lift your mood and your soul. It did mine that day and ever since.
What lifts your mood, makes your spirit soar? Whatever it is, go do it. Don’t let the fear monkeys win. Freddie didn’t and we shouldn’t either.
In memory of Freddie Mercury: September 5, 1946 — November 24, 1991.
Asha Clearwater is an NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) qualified journalist who’s been a news reporter, features editor and arts editor, as well as editor of several national business magazines.
Today, through her business Turquoise Tiger, she coaches SMEs on the art of great storytelling to promote their products and services.
Asha occasionally freelances as a writer for national magazines and is even behind some of the information boards you’ll find strolling through Woodland Trust Forests.