Gary Mullen:
a Queen at heart

In 1999, Gary Mullen sold computers in Glasgow, Scotland.

In 2000, he was Freddie Mercury all over the world.

He owes the change to his wife and mother, who secretly entered him in a televised talent show.

It doesn't hurt that many people -- including Queen's own guitarist, Brian May -- think Mullen's voice bears an uncanny resemblance to Mercury's own. But Mullen says he never set out to imitate the late Queen front man, who was 45 when he died in 1991.

"I've been a Queen fan since I was about 4 years old. I would sing along in my bedroom growing up," Mullen, speaking from a hotel room in Tewksbury, Mass., explained. "Then karaoke came along and I would sing -- well, the way I sing. People came up and said I sounded like Freddie. I never really got it. I still don't."

But his "wife and mum" conspired to enter him in Stars in Their Eyes, a British television talent show on which contestants impersonate famous personalities. Mullen easily won the competition with a record-breaking number of votes.

After Stars in Their Eyes, Mullen said, he went back to his regular job and his regular life in Glasgow. "But then the offers of work started coming in," he said. "So I thought maybe if I did it for a year, that would be great fun, and then it'd be over. It's been 10 years now."

Soon after, Mullen started touring with The Works, a five-piece band, as "One Night of Queen."

But Mullen said singing like Mercury is one thing. Becoming him on stage, even after a decade's experience, is another.

"I've had no professional or formal training. You just jump feet first and go with it," he said. "It's just an unconscious thing. I've been watching him all my life."

Getting into Freddie mode, he said, is a fairly simple routine.

"I put on some music. I start putting the wig and the 'stache and the makeup," Mullen said. "Once I get to the stage and the music starts, he goes on stage and I stay in the wings. It's like a second personality."

Besides Mullen, The Works is Davie Brockett on guitar, Jonathan Evans on drums, Billy Moffat on bass and Malcolm Gentle on keyboards. The show, originally lifted largely from Queen's 1986 Magic Tour, has since branched out to include other Queen material.

"Of course, someone will always shout out for a song you don't do," Mullen said with a laugh.

The music, he added, never gets old. Mullen still listens to Queen as much as he did in his youth.

"This is the band I grew up, these guys are my heroes," he said.

One of his proudest moments, he said, was when May invited The Works to a Queen + Paul Rodgers performance in Leipzig, Germany, in 2005.

"He was standing there, chatting with me ... and I lost the power of speech," Mullen recalled. "He was a lovely guy. It was an awesome moment."

May, too, was impressed and has recommended Mullen's tour to Queen fans. "Gary bears a remarkable likeness to Freddie," May once said, "not only in emulating Freddie's unique stage persona but also accurately reproducing Freddie's live vocal style and range."

Mullen, who hoped when he was young to become a famous singer based on original material, said he still writes and records with a friend when he's home in Glasgow. "But it's just a hobby," he said. "That album is a side project. If people like it and want to buy it, great."

Besides, he added, "I've got the best of both worlds. ... I can go on stage, perform and make people happy. Then I can take the wig off, walk out the stage door and no one has a clue who I am. I've got my privacy."

Privacy was something the real Freddie Mercury, notoriously camera- and interview-shy, lacked. And, more than anything, Mullen said he likes being able to go home to his wife and children between tours.

"I don't have another job. So when I go home, they have my undivided attention," he said.

"They totally get this," he added. "They think it's pretty normal for their dad to wear makeup and run around on stage. 'Your dad's an accountant? Yeah, well my dad's Freddie Mercury.'"

[ visit the artist's website ]

interview by
Tom Knapp

29 May 2010

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