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Family of Belfast man Prenter who was Freddie Mercury's PA claim movie's portrayal destroys his name

Exclusive: brothers speak out on how Oscar-winning film skews past details

Freddie Mercury and his assistant, Paul Prenter
Freddie Mercury and his assistant, Paul Prenter

By David O'Dornan

Family and friends have leapt to the defence of the Belfast man portrayed as a villain in the Oscar-winning movie about rock band Queen.

Former Downtown Radio worker Paul Prenter - who was Freddie Mercury's personal assistant - is cast in biopic Bohemian Rhapsody as a bad influence who led the singer astray before he died a lonely death from AIDS.

But loved ones and those who worked with Paul in Northern Ireland have slammed the film, which landed five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor.

His three brothers - Stephen, Gerard and Ray - are angry that Paul was shown as someone his parents were ashamed of for being gay and a man who turned Freddie against the band and tried to stop his famous star turn at Live Aid.

Gerard, now living in Sheffield, said: "The film was like a Disney movie with all these good characters and then one villain in the shape of Paul.

"They would never have dared to do it had Paul been alive. It is a cowardly way of going about things. They set out to destroy his name knowing he is dead and can't answer back."

His eldest brother Ray added: "Paul didn't have a nasty bone in his body. He was a very gentle and kind guy. The film has blackened Paul's name."

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The movie shows former music label exec Paul as a manipulative and confident gay man who seduces Mercury and lures him into a seedy world of sex and drugs.

But Paul's younger brother Stephen, who lived with him in London during the height of Queen's success, remembers Mercury calling to their small apartment to hang out and said they would go out together to gay nightclubs.

He said: "It's ludicrous, Paul and Freddie were best friends, that is it. They went everywhere together, they went to gay clubs together.

Paul Prenter
Paul Prenter

"Freddie would come to the flat to hang out but most of the time Paul would go to Freddie's place.

"They were both queens, they liked to chase after masculine men, that was their type, they definitely weren't into each other.

"If they weren't out together Freddie called the house almost every night and they'd talk for hours, every time I answered the phone it was Freddie.

"I heard Paul's side of the conversation and they would gossip about the band, about men in their lives, they would laugh, but they were never lovers.

"I can say 100% categorically Freddie and my brother were not involved sexually in any context, any one who knew them knew that.

"Freddie was gay, simple. My brother did not make Freddie gay and Freddie was taking drugs long before he met my brother," he says.

Freddie Mercury and Paul Prenter, his assistant
Freddie Mercury and Paul Prenter, his assistant

"So the idea that Paul corrupted Freddie is nonsense, Freddie was not a man to be led."

Stephen (59), now a casino worker in Las Vegas, remembers Paul taking him to Elton John's birthday party on board HMS Belfast which is moored on the River Thames in London.

He said: "It was great, I was 19 and there was a free bar. Freddie called Elton by his gay nickname Sharon.

"I remember being invited to a lot of parties during that time and I met a lot of stars, the likes of Rod Stewart, Annie Lennox, Diana Ross. I was also backstage at a lot of Queen concerts."

And he said he was particularly upset by the suggestion that his parents had turned their back on his brother for being gay when in the movie Paul's character, played by actor Allen Leech, says, "My father would rather see me dead than let me be who I am".

Stephen said: "My parents knew about Paul being gay since he was 16, so for a long time.

Bohemian Rhapsody: Paul Prenter and Freddie Mercury
Bohemian Rhapsody: Paul Prenter and Freddie Mercury

"He'd come back on holidays with his boyfriends and stay at my parent's house in Dublin with his partners staying in the same bedroom.

"So there was never any issue, the only person who had an issue with being gay was Freddie. Freddie never once in his life admitted to being gay, it was an open secret but never once did he say, 'I'm gay', whereas Paul was very open about it.

"So to bring the Irish Catholic parents thing into the movie is nonsense."

Gerard (71) adds: "They have just reached lazily for the stereotype of what a Catholic father from Belfast might be without any regard for the truth.

"Paul had boyfriends when he started DJ-ing. He never lived in fear of our father. Both he and my mother were ordinary people and very liberal minded, really good parents.

"He ended up burying his son after he died of AIDS so for the makers of the film to portray the family like that is a disgrace."

And eldest brother Ray, a retired head-teacher now living in Waterford, said their parents Bill and Eileen supported Paul through his illness until his death in Dublin.

He said: "My parents had total empathy for Paul when they found out he had AIDS. There was no rancour about what he had been doing or how he had become ill."

Paul's family acknowledge the hurt caused by his explosive interview about Freddie Mercury's sex life in The Sun newspaper in 1987, for which he was paid £32,000 - the modern equivalent of £90,000. In the film it is portrayed as a TV hatchet job.

But they claim he was disgruntled over how he was fired by the band and needed the money to pay for his treatment for AIDS.

Ray says: "Paul was very bitter. He felt they let him down and he was hurt. He worked for them for years and he got very little from them.

"That was when he decided he had to get a few bob for his own treatment. So that is why he went with the papers."

Gerard added: "The truth is that Paul was no saint, but he was a kind and generous person and not the villain the film makes him out to be."

Queen and 20th Century Fox, which distributed the film Bohemian Rhapsody, did not reply to a request for comment.

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