Queen for a night in Beaver Creek | VailDaily.com

Queen for a night in Beaver Creek

Sarah Mausolf
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily"Queen" fan groups praised Mullen for his impersonation of Freddie Mercury on the hit United Kingdom show "Stars in their Eyes."

BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” Wearing a wig made of Yak hair, prancing around like a ballerina and belting out “Bohemian Rhapsody” can be a formula for success.

Just ask Gary Mullen, a 54-year-old Scotland native and frontman for a popular Queen tribute band.

“One Night of Queen” rocks out Sunday at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek.

Mullen got his start singing Queen songs at a karoke bar in Glasgow, Scotland.

His performances were so popular, bar patrons often compared him to Queen’s legendary singer, Freddie Mercury.

About eight years ago, Mullen’s wife and mother secretly signed him up for the hit United Kingdom TV show “Stars in their Eyes.” The show was a competition between regular people who impersonate singers.

“‘Stars in Their Eyes’ was a fun show we always watched on a Saturday night, and I just thought it would give him something to tell the grandchildren,” Mullen’s wife, Jackie Mullen, said in an e-mail.

When Gary found out he was going to appear on the show, he was nervous about how Queen loyalists would receive him.

“I was actually quite concerned about what the Queen fans were going to think,” he recalled. “I didn’t want the Queen fan club to hunt me down and hang me from a tree because I was being disrespectful to Freddie’s memory.”

Quite the opposite happened. Gary’s military jacket, white trousers and singing were so convincing, members of the Official International Queen Fan Club voted for him.

“I remember thinking how good he was, how accurate his voice was, and I just knew he would win!” fan club secretary Jacky Smith said in an e-mail.

By 2002, Gary was touring all over Europe with four other guys from the United Kingdom. The cover band haunted venues the real Queen played, like Hyde Park in London. It has become so popular, members of Queen fan clubs send hundreds of e-mails and letters.

“I had a guy in the UK come on dressed as Freddie,” Gary recalled. “He got through security and just appeared on stage. I was just like, ‘OK.’ I’m counting the members of the band and I’m thinking, ‘There’s one more person up here than there should be and I was like, ‘Oh, hello. Can I help you?’ and he was like, ‘I wanna sing’ … I gave him the microphone and the funny thing was, he didn’t even know the song we were singing and it was like, ‘OK, bye.'”

“One night of Queen” recently embarked on a 32-stop tour in America. The tour began about a week ago in Green Bay and ends in April.

For Gary, the trip marks his first trip to the states. Two things have surprised him: the warm reception from audiences and the monstrous food portions.

“We didn’t know how big Queen was in America,” Gary said. “I think also the food portions are bigger than in the UK, which, I like to eat, so I’m happier than a pig in mud, so to speak.”

On stage, Gary channels the flamboyant Freddie Mercury. To get the look, the “follically challenged” singer wears a wig made from Yak hair.

“Somewhere in Tibet, there’s a Yak running around with a sheared butt,” Gary said.

He also wears a fake mustache. It’s so realistic, people often stare at his

clean-shaven upper lip in shock after the show. “That’s human hair from Mexico. Don’t know where, don’t know from which human, don’t want to know,” Gary notes.

Although his costume is convincing, Gary is not Mercury. Mercury was a “party animal.” Gary has three children he jokingly compares to “The Partridge Family.”

“At home, Gary is a normal guy, a fantastic, caring husband, and a great father, who loves to jump around playing Lightsabers with our son or hide and seek with our girls, doing the school run, or reading bedtime stories,” Jackie said.

Mercury frequented gay bathhouses and dated a male hairdresser. Gary is married.

“A lot of people naturally assume that because Freddie was gay that I’m gay, which I’m not, and I’ve had some gay fellows just come and try to chat me up and I’m flattered but I’m like: ‘I’m heterosexual thanks anyway,'” Gary said.

In some ways, Gary plays a controversial character. Mercury died of AIDS in 1995 at the age of 45, less than 24 hours after going public about his illness. His death is considered a milestone in AIDS awareness.

Rather than dwelling on Mercury’s private life, though, Gary focuses on the singer’s effervescent stage personality. Queen has sold more than 300 million albums worldwide.

Gary attributes the band’s lasting appeal to two things: Mercury’s voice, fabled to have spanned nearly four octaves, and his hit songs.

“I think the music is timeless,” Gary said. “When you look at things we rock to, ‘We Are The Champions,’ for example, songs like that are used in sports stadiums all across the world for baseball, football, soccer matches all around the world, so I think those things keep the memory of the band alive.”

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 748-2938 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.

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