Added on 26-Nov-2006
Gary Mullen’s victory on Stars in Their Eyes led to a rip-roaring new career fronting a Queen tribute band, writes Mike Wade
Before he takes the stage at a public hall in Leicester, Gary Mullen is eyeing up the audience. He’s 500 miles from his Glasgow home and should be playing to a room full of strangers. But many of the crowd look disconcertingly familiar.
Mullen is appearing on a bill of tribute acts and can count at least 10 men who are dressed exactly as he is — as the late Queen singer, Freddie Mercury. Another dozen or so are dressed as Elvis Presley. Even more wear the cavewoman look Tina Turner made fashionable in the 1980s — and unnervingly only half appear to be women. “Male and female Tinas,” laughs Mullen at the memory. “It’s the most surreal thing I’ve ever seen.”
Nothing is at it seems in the strange realm of the tribute bands, where, with his band, the Works, the unassuming Mullen is now the uncrowned king. Six years after winning a television talent show, he is about to embark on a series of gigs at some of Scotland’s biggest venues with his impersonation of Mercury.
Mullen does not crave fame — but tickets for his shows sell across the world. In the past month he has completed a six-date tour of Holland with the Works. Earlier in the year he triumphed in Germany; in 2003 it was New Zealand. In July his One Night of Queen show topped the bill at the Marvellous Festival in Berkshire — where he played to 9,000 fans. By Hogmanay he’ll have completed more than 150 shows in the year.
It doesn’t matter a jot to his audience that Mullen doesn’t look much like Mercury — though a wig and moustache help to create the illusion on stage. Nor is it of any concern that earlier in the year for a few hundred pounds these same fans could have bought a flight and a stadium ticket to see the re-formed Queen, with their new lead singer, Paul Rodgers.
Instead these punters want Mullen for his no-holds-barred nostalgia, a good night’s sing-along for less than 20 quid. In return he provides “entertainment in its purest form”, he says.
“The greatest thing for any entertainer is to have an audience leave with a smile,” he reckons. “You have to be very careful of not doing a mickey-take, because Queen fans are very respectful to the memory of Freddie. We say to people who come to see the show, close your eyes and picture what Queen would have been like in 1986 or 1975. That’s what we’re trying to give people.”
Mullen’s life has changed radically since he married Jackie in 1996. First he survived testicular cancer — going on to have three children. The transformation from computer salesman into globe-trotting singer began in Glasgow’s Horseshoe Bar. One night a friend taped his Freddie imitation and sent the recording to Granada’s Stars in Their Eyes. Mullen went on to win the final in 2000, and in that first gig played to a TV audience of 10.5m.
For all that success, Mullen says he is happy to be anonymous in Stepps, where he lives. “It’s nice to be recognised with the Freddie stuff for those two hours on stage, but I don’t think I could be ‘Gary Mullen — singer’ in my own right, having people know what I do 24/7,” he says. “I take off the wig and go out the back door. I’ve not got the intrusion of people wanting to know my every move. I just could not do that.”
Not even for a moment? “Well, sometimes when you are travelling on a tour bus, you think ‘This is kind of cool, we’re halfway round the world doing shows’. But as far as the rock’n’roll thing goes we don’t trash hotel rooms. We go in with the Mr Sheen and polish them.”