Making a Monkey of the Dead

Stephen Irvine, 12 July 2013

Having relaxed into the surroundings of more exotic climes of late, it was a miserable journey back to Norwich for Sour Times this week, as another ridiculous story unfolded in the land that spawned Tim Westwood, Delia Smith and Alan Partridge. With the city still reeling from the recent dust-up at the sci-fi convention, there was fresh drama as a gorilla painted to resemble Freddie Mercury was removed from outside The Forum, at the request of the late Queen frontman’s estate.

The Mercury-inspired model was part of The GoGoGorillas outdoor art trail, an exhibition of 53 life sized installations located around the city, with the apes created to raise awareness and funds for the Born Free charity’s project to help lowland gorillas in the Congo. Mercury’s estate took umbrage with the ape designed in his image, and their killjoy attitude was backed up by Freddie’s old guitarist, Brian May.

Freddie Mercury

According to a BBC report, May claimed “you’d want to feel you had some kind of a right to say yes or no, to protect his reputation” and that any leniency from the estate could lead to “any number of companies like this making Freddie elephants or antelopes, or whatever.” Yeah, good point Brian. You can just imagine the fervour in boardrooms the world over as news breaks that corporate empires have finally got the green light to mass produce model antelopes that are painted to look like Freddie Mercury.

And all this from the RSPCA vice-president, a man who uses his fame to aid the cause of Britain’s wildlife and paints himself as some kind of ‘Father Earth’ figure – surely he’d be only too keen to see the gorillas’ plight take precedence over moot concerns about a deceased pop star’s image? He certainly doesn’t think it’s in bad taste when hundreds of protestors turn up dressed as badgers to listen to his wise and humble words.

Gorillas are generally well thought of and are represented with grandeur and majesty in popular culture; their DNA being around 95% identical to our own makes them instantly fascinating, and with this being a bit of fun in the name of a serious cause, what damage would Freddie’s reputation have really suffered? If anything, it’s good to be aligned with an effort to save such a noble beast – it’s not like he’s been cast as a rat or cockroach.


May’s stance seems rather strange to me, and leads me to consider the reputation that Freddie had and to ponder the question of how damaging this painted gorilla could actually be. In a nutshell, Mercury is known as a talented vocalist and showman whose band were as big as anyone in the 80’s. He was a man who enjoyed drink, drugs and the company of many men. Freddie lived fast and died (fairly) young; a flamboyant entertainer who had a real sense of fun in his performances, and that’s all anyone in their right mind would consider the gorilla to be – a bit of fun.

I can only hope that common sense prevails and Freddie the gorilla is restored to his rightful home, in Norwich with 52 of his brethren, and that the publicity that this story gained will have gone some way to helping Born Free in their honourable mission.

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