On 5th August 1996 (timed to coincide with that year’s Edinburgh Fringe) Fourth Estate published I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, the autobiography of comedian, club-owner and anarchic bon viveur Malcolm Hardee.
In it, among many other scarcely credible (but actually true) tales, he tells of the time he did, indeed, steal Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake.
Never one to under-anecdote, in 1995 Malcolm also told the same story in Funny Talk, an anthology of new writing (edited by Jim Driver) about and around the world of comedy and showbiz.
Other contributors included Max Bygraves, Jeremy Hardy, Hattie Hayridge, John Hegley, Ralph McTell, Michael Palin, Jon Ronson and Mark Steel.
Here, courtesy of Jim Driver, is Malcolm’s contribution…
MALCOLM HARDEE ATTENDS
FREDDIE MERCURY’S BIRTHDAY PARTY
7th October 1986, 10.30am
The phone rings.
I pick it up and answer with the usual “Oy! Oy!”
“Hello, it’s Louis here.” An agent. “Are The Greatest Show on Legs still working?”
“How do you fancy doing a show for Freddie Mercury’s fortieth birthday?”
“How much? How long? Where?”
“£600.Three-and-a-half minutes’ Balloon Dance, Club Xenon, Piccadilly.”
So, we’re booked to perform our infamous Balloon Dance for the lead singer of Queen’s fortieth. (This is a routine I do with two other guys, consisting of us dancing stark naked – apart from strategically-placed balloons – to the tune of Tea For Two (cha cha cha!) I ring the other two and they are as keen as mustard. Big Freddie Mercury fans both and, after all, a hundred quid is a hundred quid!
8th October 1986, 8.00pm
We arrive at Club Xenon, 171 Piccadilly, and are ushered to the ‘dressing room’ which in reality is a cupboard behind the stage. There is, however, a small window in the door through which we can peer out across the stage at the celebrity party-goers. The Management inform us that we must remain in the cupboard until we have finished our set. There are four or five other acts, including a Russian acrobat and a midget.
The show begins. Freddie’s in, so’s Elton John, Princess Margaret and Rod Stewart. The party-goers ignore the first three acts, but the Russian acrobat goes down well. It’s the midget’s turn next. We’d been holding him up to the window to see what’s going on and, fuelled by our recently-acquired camaraderie, we watch while he goes through his midget routine.
Freddie’s Management – six blokes in funny suits and ties – come in to the cupboard and inform us that we can’t go on. I’m naked and ready to go. Quite reasonably, I ask why. The Management tell us that our act might be considered ‘gay’. The press are in and Freddie doesn’t want to be considered ‘gay’.
Obviously disappointed, I try to reason with them by pointing out that (1) it’s obvious to anyone that Freddie Mercury is gay, (2) the band’s name is Queen for fuck’s sake and (3) what’s the big deal anyway? I peer through the window and notice Freddie with his tongue down Elton’s throat. The Management will have none of it and insist on paying me off in full. I would have put the £600 into my pocket but, as I was only wearing a sock at the time…
I’m disappointed and disillusioned but, what the hell, there’s a party to go to. I ask the Management if we can get dressed and join in. “After he’s cut the cake,” they reply. Off they go, locking the door behind them. We then suffer the indignity of peering through a 10” x 8” window, waiting for the cake to arrive.
After about 15 minutes, it appears. It’s huge: a great pink cake in the shape of a Rolls-Royce, complete with the number plates FM1. Three burly carriers lay it on three tables for Freddie to cut. He stands behind the cake, the paparazzi stand in front. Freddie grasps a 12” knife in both hands and poses for pictures. He stabs the cake and strides off. The dressing-room door is finally unlocked and I ask the Management if we could please come out and join the party. One of them points and says we can go into ‘that bit’ (the room in front of the stage), but not into ‘that bit’ (an ante room containing Freddie, Rod, Princess, Elton etc). We go into ‘that bit’ (in front of the stage).
‘Our bit’ is full of liggers and hangers-on paying £5 for pints of piss water, in the vain hope of meeting somebody famous. By now I am doubly disappointed. Not only have we not been allowed to perform, but we’re not even allowed to meet anyone we were supposed to perform in front of. By this time it’s 2.00am and I suggest to the others that we fuck off home, especially as I’ve got to get up early with the kids. We head for a side door.
In the corridor by the exit – untouched except for a single stab wound – is Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. I look at my companions, they look at me and I utter the words I know they want to hear:
“We’ll have that,” I say.
You would never think a cake could weigh so much. We certainly don’t, until we drag it out of the door and to our Ford Transit, (which, as luck would have it) is parked a mere 20 yards away. We open the back and in it goes… well, not quite. There are still three or four feet sticking out the back. And so we drive the eight miles back to my house in south-east London with the back end of Freddie Mercury’s pink Roller sticking out of the back of our battered Transit.
We arrive back at my place only to discover that we can’t get the thing up the stairs. Martin – the sensible Balloon Dancer – suggests we take it to his house, seeing as how he lives on the ground floor. By this time it is 3.00am, but we think, “Fuck it, it’s got to be done.”
We get to Martin’s place and try to take the cake in. Slight mishap: it won’t fit throught his door. By this time, we’re getting good at solving cake conundrums. No problem, we take out the window.
Mission accomplished. We clear the only two tables in the house and there it lies, in pride of place. Drive home. It’s 4.30am.
9th October 1986, 9.30am
The phone rings.
I pick it up and answer with an only slightly subdued “Oy! Oy!”
“It’s Louis…” The agent. “You bastards! You’ve stolen Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake!”
Me (quick as a flash): “No we haven’t. It must have been some teenagers we saw when we were leaving.”
Louis: “Well, the Management have called in the police. That cake cost £4,000.” Click.
I can admit to being slightly worried. A past indiscretion (theft of Cabinet Minister Peter Walker’s Rolls-Royce, fraud, burglary, etc) meant that I spent much of the 1970s in prison.
I ring Martin: “Mart, they’re on to us. I’m coming round.”
I go round.
Martin has a bright idea. “We can’t eat it – it’s too big – let’s give it to an old people’s home. Old folks like cake.”
Brilliant. We phone the local old people’s home which snaps up the offer of free cake for the foreseeable future.
Window frame out. Cake back in Transit.
As we drive away from Martin’s house, I notice a police car coming from the opposite direction. They stop at Martin’s, but luckily don’t think to look in their rear-view mirror. If they had, they would have seen three feet of cake sticking out of the back of our van.
We deliver the cake to the Reynard Memorial Nursing Home. Breathe a sigh of relief and drive home.
9th October, 1986 – 4.30pm
Asleep. The doorbell rings.
Two detectives from West End Central Police Station are standing on my doorstep.
Detective Number 1: “You’ve stolen Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake.”
Me: “No I haven’t.”
Detective Number 2: “Oh yes you have.”
Me: “This is a pantomime.”
Detective Number 1: “Oh no it’s not.”
Me: “Behind you.”
They barge in, produce a search warrant and – believe it or not – two magnifying glasses with which they search for cake crumbs. Needless to say they don’t find any and they leave, vowing to return.
That was almost ten years ago and I’ve not heard a thing since.
Hang on, is that the door?
Malcolm’s extensive and outrageous autobiography, titled I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, is now out of print but is available on Amazon and elsewhere.
On amazon.co.uk it currently has a completely incorrect synopsis – the result of some uncorrected cock-up in the Amazon system. It’s been like that for at least five years, but Malcolm would probably have enjoyed the anarchy.
The synopsis currently starts: “For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students…”
Malcolm’s autobiography is indeed inspirational, but in all the wrong ways…