Did Queen really hold debauched parties where they hired dwarves to carry trays of cocaine round on their heads?
Dr Mike: This is one of those classic showbiz tales which is impossible to stand up, but which no-one concerned has ever actually denied. You get the impression Queen would quite like the story to be true, even if things didn't really happen quite the way they're supposed to have.
Boiled down, the facts of the matter appear to be as follows: the rumour refers to one specific party, held in New Orleans on Hallowe'en 1978 to celebrate the release of the group's Jazz album. It is reported that as well as a posse of drug-dealing dwarves, Queen also brought in a colourful selection of transvestites, party animals and good-time girls, and a fine night was had by all.
The truth, as ever, is harder to come by. According to the handy Rock Stars Do the Dumbest Things web site,
'In October 1978, Queen threw a royal bash at a New Orleans hotel. The band invited 400 hundred people and flew in the press from England, South America, and Japan. Partiers were entertained by naked female mud wrestling dwarfs, fire-eaters, Zulu dancers, and drag queens. Recording executives lined up for admittance to a special back room, where a female New Orleans native spent the entire evening on her knees getting down to business.' Journalist Lisa Robinson, writing two weeks later, reported that 'A traditional New Orleans jazz band led Queen in to the hotel's Imperial Ballroom. Thirty-two local acts had been hired to entertain. Among them were tap dancers, female impersonators, strippers and go-go dancers, some with highly exotic specialities.'
The most detailed contemporary report we've been able to access comes from the reliable LA Times's Robert Hilburn, who recorded: 'Queen put together a $200,000 party for 600 friends, writers, record personnel and local "street people." One of the reasons for the party was to scuff up the band's refined, standoffish image.
'The refined aspect was easily erased. There were so many strippers in the Fairmont Hotel's ballroom Tuesday night that one Bourbon St. club had to close for the night. The band had hired all its dancers.
'"Queen wanted us to have a lot of street people," said Bob Gibson, an L.A. publicist known for throwing attention-getting affairs. Brought in to assist with this one, he and assistant Patti Mitsui prowled Bourbon St. looking for offbeat entertainment. They came up with magicians, a snake charmer, fire-eater, transvestites and strippers.
'Word of their search spread so fast around the French Quarter, would-be attractions started calling them. "You couldn't believe some of the people who called," Gibson said. "We finally had to draw a line at the chicken man." His speciality, apparently, was biting off the heads of live chickens. Another reject: a man who enjoys lying under stacks of raw liver.'
'Queen's concert [that night] was a pared-down, no-frills affair, placing more emphasis on pacing and energy rather than the elaborate staging and instrumental solos of its last tours. Opinions on the press bus afterwards were mixed. Some complained about the lack of extravagant effects. Others enjoyed the new simplicity. But the early reviews of the party were unanimous: too tame.
'At midnight, the hotel's huge Imperial Room looked like nothing more than a high school Halloween party. An elderly jazz band paraded around the room to the yawns of the action-minded guests. "This crowd wants sleaze," a member of the organising party said, sensing the mood of discontent. By 1 a.m., the entertainment order was juggled to a supply a steady parade of strippers.
'After snapping the room to attention, the dancers - gyrating to the sound of the Rolling Stones' Miss You - finally turned the stage over to female impersonators, who started a round of is-he-or-isn't-she speculation. Meanwhile, the female strippers set up new runways on tabletops nearby and proceeded to give more intimate shows. The band stuck around the party nibbling oysters Rockefeller and answering questions until nearly 4 a.m.'
No mention of coke-toting midgets, you'll notice. And a strong impression that the tales told of the Jazz launch party have got quite a bit taller over the years. Certainly Queen drummer Roger Taylor, interviewed recently on a Channel 4 tribute to the group, said he had no personal recollection of any dwarves being present at the party at all... though he also declined a golden opportunity to insist the rumour was, after all, untrue.
All in all, we think that while the stunt was in probably keeping with Freddie Mercury's idea of a good time during the group's hedonistic middle years, it's unlikely to have happened the way it's said to have. If the dwarves were there at all, they would appear to have been a late addition, perhaps to a VIP area that the LA Times reporter and his mates had no access to. Possibly one or two members of a mud wrestling dwarf troupe simply made themselves useful for a while, handing out the drugs that would have been present at any showbiz party of that era.
Most probably, though, the whole story is an urban legend which attached itself to accounts of a notoriously riotous evening, and which the band members encourage because it shows them in a wonderfully decadent light.