Belfast Telegraph

How Ex-Downtown Radio DJ who was Freddie Mercury's lover became the villain of new movie Bohemian Rhapsody

Paul Prenter with Freddie Mercury during Queen's heyday
Paul Prenter with Freddie Mercury during Queen's heyday
Prenter (on left) at Downtown Radio with Candy Devine and Brian McSharry
Mercury and Prenter depicted in Bohemian Rhapsody
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

A new hit movie about rock group Queen has revealed the 'Judas' role that it claims a former Downtown Radio DJ from Belfast played in the life and eventual demise of tragic singer Freddie Mercury.

Paul Prenter is cast as the ‘villain’ of Bohemian Rhapsody, which focuses on the gay love affair that developed from his working relationship with the flamboyant star, who at first tried to keep his sexuality a secret.

But Prenter was blamed for telling the world that Mercury had Aids after he sold his story to an English newspaper for £32,000.

Both he and Mercury died from Aids in 1991.

Prenter was one of the first presenters on Downtown, the Newtownards-based radio station, when it came on air in 1976 and photographs show him in the studios with colleagues including Candy Devine, Big T (Trevor Campbell) and Hendi (Michael Henderson).

Prenter hosted a series of evening shows on Downtown including Soul Train, featuring soul music, and Yesterplay, which focused on hits from the past.

But the timeline in Bohemian Rhapsody has been adapted to show Prenter meeting Mercury for the first time in 1975 in a riverside bar when he was in the employ of Queen’s manager John Reid.

It is understood, however, that it wasn’t until 1977 that Prenter started to work for the band and he later became Mercury’s personal assistant as well as his lover.

At one point in the film during a taxi journey with Mercury, Prenter tells him he knows what it is like not to belong as a “queer Catholic boy from Belfast”.

He adds: “You know, I think my father would rather see me dead than to let me be who I am.”

The conversation comes in New York after Mercury has dismissed manager John Reid who, in a reference to Prenter, tells him: “You’re firing the wrong snake, Freddie. You’ll regret it.”

Prenter then says to Mercury: “I’m going to take care of you now Freddie, if you’ll let me.”

However, in Bohemian Rhapsody, the influence of the former Downtown man, who is played by Downton Abbey star Allen Leech, is shown to cause serious rifts in Queen, whose three other members dislike him and occasionally threaten him with violence.

Prenter is seen manoeuvring a £4m solo recording deal for Mercury, which further angers Queen stars Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon.

In the film Prenter is eventually sacked by Mercury and the reason given is that he didn’t pass on a message to him about the offer from Bob Geldof for Queen to star in the 1985 Live Aid charity gig at Wembley.

A furious Prenter reacts in the movie to his firing by telling Mercury to “think of the photos” he has and warns him: “I know who you are, Freddie Mercury.”

The singer calls him “a dirty little fruit-fly” who is feasting on what’s left of him and tells him to “fly off” and do what he wants with his photos and stories.

Mercury tells the other Queen musicians that he dismissed Prenter for “villainy”.

But it is understood that Prenter wasn’t fired until 1986 — the year after Live Aid.

One insider said: “There was more to the breakdown of their relationship than a row over how bad Prenter was at passing on messages.”

In another apparent departure from the facts, in the movie Prenter’s ‘kiss and tell’ about Mercury comes before Live Aid in an interview on television, not in a newspaper, and he didn’t sell his story to The Sun until 1987.

In the actual interview Prenter claimed that his former boss had slept with hundreds of men and said it was because he was terrified of sleeping alone.

Prenter said Mercury lavished expensive gifts on his lovers — diamonds, cars and money.

He told The Sun: “It was more likely that I would see him walk on water than go with a woman. Freddie told me his first homosexual relationship happened when he was at boarding school in India when he was 14. While we were touring there would be a different man every night, he would probably go to bed by 6am or 7am — but rarely alone.

“He has a fear of sleeping alone or even being alone for long stretches.”

Prenter told the newspaper that Mercury phoned him after airline steward John Murphy, a one-night-stand, died of Aids in 1987 and admitted: “I’m afraid I could die of Aids.”

On RTE’s Late, Late Show at the weekend actor Allen Leech told host Ryan Tubridy that the relationship between Prenter and Mercury was “complicated”.

He said the two men were initially closeted in their sexuality as gay men, adding: “There was a certain level of camaraderie then in that they confided in each other.

“But Prenter wasn’t liked by the rest of the band and he took Freddie away to record two albums on his own in Munich and after he was fired he sold his story of Freddie’s Aids diagnosis and his sexuality.”

In Bohemian Rhapsody, Mercury is seen forming a relationship with a former Co Carlow hairdresser called Jim Hutton, who was with the singer up until his death.

The role of Hutton is played by Portadown actor Aaron McCusker, who starred in the TV series Shameless.

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