Irish accessory designer Rory Hutton previews the upcoming Freddie Mercury auction at Sotheby’s and shares a very personal connection with the late Queen singer …
I recently visited Sotheby’s for the opening of its latest exhibition titled “Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own.” The exhibition showcases an array of treasures from Freddie’s sanctuary, Garden Lodge in Kensington, London and will culminate with an auction of these objects.
While Freddie had exquisite taste, for once, it wasn’t the art and objet d’art on display that brought me to Bond Street. I wasn’t there as a Queen fan or to see Freddie’s world. I was there to see the world he shared with Jim Hutton, my cousin and Freddie’s long-term partner.
Garden Lodge is the home he shared with Jim and the location of many of the stories I loved to hear growing up. The opportunity to see the furniture and art Jim had known during his life with Freddie was one I couldn’t miss.
Jim Hutton and Freddie Mercury.
Growing up gay in Ireland during the 90s, there were few positive role models for people like me. Who I was simply wasn’t represented. But Jim provided me with the role model I longed for during my formative years. A man I barely knew but saw occasionally at family functions or bumped into in town, me as a shy appendage to my father or grandmother.
He couldn’t have imagined the effect his relationship with Freddie had on this shy boy. I would quiz my grandmother relentlessly all about Jim. I wanted to know everything about his life with Freddie, the house Freddie built for him in our hometown, what the family thought when they found out about his relationship with this huge celebrity. What she imagined my late grandfather would have said about it all, etc.
Celebrity saved me. Under the cloak of interest in Freddie’s fame and impressed to have a star in the family, I could ask lots of questions without raising suspicion.
But I truly had very little interest in Freddie’s fame. I was learning all about a positive gay relationship and how my family had responded to it. I was collecting information for when I would have a gay relationship of my own, considering how they might react. The fear of rejection faced by young gay people, especially in a society where nobody talks about gay people in a positive way, is very real, and I feared this. In retrospect, it would have been totally out of character for any of my close family to reject me, but fear is not always rational.
When I stayed with my grandmother, I would sneak into her bedroom and borrow her copy of Jim’s book Mercury and Me. Jim had gifted this to her, and it was inscribed to his aunt. I would secretly read a couple of chapters before carefully putting it back. It feels ridiculous to me now, but I imagined my grandmother would have considered it unsuitable reading for me, hence it became this illicit thing. She wasn’t much of a reader, so it’s highly likely she had no idea about its contents!
During these secret reading sessions, I learned all about London’s famous gay scene and Heaven [nightclub], where Freddie and Jim met. But more importantly, the centre of the book featured photographs of happy days and birthday parties at Garden Lodge, just like the pictures any loving couple might have.
While I was never “out” in school, children pick up on these things, and I was regularly called “fag” or “girl.” Even walking down the street on a Saturday, there was the threat of the embarrassment of someone calling me names as they walked past.
But Jim and his life in London couldn’t be denied. Thanks to Freddie’s fame, I had a role model and I am incredibly grateful for this. I last saw Jim at my grandmother’s funeral in 2007. I never came out to her, but she was always close to Jim and said only kind things about him, so I know she would have supported me too.
Rory’s edit from “Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own”:
Lot 534: A Blanc de Chine Lamp, 20th century, £500-700
I adore lamps, the larger the better. This statement piece comes paired with the most perfect shade, ready to add a touch of fantasy to your drawing room!
Lot 741: A Meissen Chocolate Cup c1727, £5,000-7,000
With its sunny yellow ground, this tiny cup commands a significant presence. I would love to paint a room in its honour. Moreover, it boasts impeccable Royal pedigree, having once belonged to Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony.
Lot 526: A Pair of English armchairs in the Chinoiserie style c.1920-30, £1,000-1,500
I could happily live with all of Freddie’s Chinoiserie furniture. This pair of armchairs would add a whimsical touch to any room.
Lot 1141: A Japanese Kimono, 20th century, £800-1,200
Freddie loved kimonos, a passion I share. What could be more decadent than floating about at home in this full-length example? Alternatively, follow in Freddie’s footsteps and throw a Kimono Party!
Lot 6: A Fabergé vesta case c.1890, £6,000-8,000
Fabergé is synonymous with luxury and perfection, so it’s no surprise to discover this exquisite example among Freddie’s possessions.
Lot 643: Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, L’été, chat sur une balustrade, 1909, £2,000-3,000
Freddie famously adored cats, even dedicating songs to his favourites! With its unimpressed expression, familiar to all cat owners, this marvellous moggy is sure to bring a smile to your face.