‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ raises profile of Czech AIDS project co-founded by Freddie Mercury's friend

Milan Šatník, Peter Freestone, photo: ČTK/Michal Krumphanzl

The founders of a project to educate Czech schoolchildren about HIV and AIDS, named in honour of the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, plan to take it worldwide. The phenomenal success of the new biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” has raised the project’s profile ahead of its global launch – which its founders say is a happy coincidence.

Milan Šatník,  Peter Freestone,  photo: ČTK/Michal Krumphanzl
Peter Freestone was a close friend of Freddie Mercury, and his personal assistant for a dozen years before the singer died of AIDS in 1991. A decade later, the Englishman moved to the Czech Republic, where he has worked on various projects for young people that centre around music.

Seven years ago, Mr Freestone teamed up with local singer and Queen fanatic Milan Šatník on a project to educate schoolchildren about HIV and AIDS named in Freddie Mercury’s honour, called the “Titanic Freddie AIDS” project.

Mr Freestone says the move to revisit Czech schools and take the project global was long in the works. The release of the film “Bohemian Rhapsody” – for which he was a consultant – was a most welcome, fortuitous development, he says.

“We originally did it seven years ago and covered all of the students in the schools – so, you have to give it a break to get new students in, so that it has some effect. Nobody dreamt that the film would have the impact it has had. If it can help with this, it’s something very much worthwhile.”

“For me personally, I’ve done so much in my life – I am the luckiest man alive to have done what I’ve done and know the people I’ve known – but, for all of that, this is the most important project I will ever be involved in because it’s a chance to save a life.”

In the Czech Republic, as of November 2018 there were 3,338 people registered as HIV positive and more than 600 have full-blown AIDS. Globally, an estimated 40 million people have the HIV virus.

Freddie Mercury,  photo: Carl Lender,  CC BY-SA 3.0
Mr Freestone’s partner on the “Titanic Freddie AIDS” project, the singer Milan Šatník, says the danger is that people no longer fear catching it – or even see it as only a “gay disease”.

“In the early spring, we want to again visit all the primary schools in the Czech Republic. I’d love to see this message go to everyone, young and old, so they realise this disease is still here and it still kills. If you look at the statistics, every year there are so many more people falling ill from it.”

“I see this project in a year’s time being all around the world. Honestly, the movie ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ has helped us because the young generation now knows Queen – they know who Freddie Mercury was. We did some talks before, and kids knew ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are the Champions’ but not who Freddie Mercury was. This movie makes sure everyone knows he died of AIDS.”

After visiting Czech schools, the “Titanic Freddie AIDS” project will do an international promotional tour with stops in Croatia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Mexico and the United States.