I Reconnected With My Queen Pen Pal After 25 Years
by Leslie Fulton
As a 13-year-old girl in 1976 stuck in a small Ontario town, I was obsessed with one thing: the rock group Queen. My bedroom walls were papered with posters of the band. I collected every single Queen-related item I could get my hands on. I was a paid-up member of the fan club.
I knew a few kindred souls who liked the band, but not with the same fervour as me. They were into the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Electric Light Orchestra and Peter Frampton. I liked these bands too, but something about Queen drew me in. I just couldn’t get enough. From the moment my friend Peter carefully placed A Night at the Opera on his turntable and cranked up the volume, I was hooked.
I needed a Queen soulmate. Someone with whom I could share my obsession. Flipping through the back pages of the Queen fan club’s newsletter, I came across the classified ads. My eyes lit on the pen pal section.
I carefully combed through the list of potential candidates. I didn’t want somebody from North America. Too pedestrian. For a kid who hadn’t travelled much, I wanted something exotic. And exotic to me was someone from England – a fan who breathed the same air as my heroes.
The first person I picked was a bit of a wash. He was from Leicester. John Deacon, Queen’s bassist, was from the area, so I thought that was cool. We exchanged a few letters but when he sent a photo of himself – a spotty 15-year-old with his shirt buttoned up to his neck, holding a shotgun – I decided to end it. He was a far cry from my mysterious Freddie Mercury with his black nail polish.
The next was a girl from Liverpool – Susan. I liked the idea of knowing someone from the Beatles' hometown. We instantly developed a rapport. We were the same age and she loved the band as much as I did. We wrote to each other at least once a month and my day was made when a letter with an English stamp fluttered through my mailbox.
We talked about other things besides Queen – boys, problems with mean girls, school, fashion. But Queen was always our touchstone. We both had prodigious knowledge of the band and passed snippets of gossip back and forth. I felt she knew me better than my friends at home, and in a way she did – although I was a sociable kid, I opened up to her in a way that I wouldn’t dream of with my buddies in Kingston.
Our teenage years flew by. I got to see Queen six times. She one-upped me on that, following the band from city to city when she could sneak away. She even met them a few times and sent a photo of her sitting in a pub with John Deacon, his arm draped casually around her shoulders. I was speechless with awe. She had met our heroes! The closest I had come was a backstage pass; I saw Freddie’s custom-made ballet slippers flash by before I was unceremoniously ushered out by a gruff bouncer.
We were pen pals until our early 20s. For close to 10 years we shared secrets and our love of a band that fell out of fashion with musical snobs. For a while, admitting to liking Queen was a bit like saying you liked show tunes. When I went to university, my Queen posters stayed at home.
Susan and I fell out of touch. It wasn’t that much of a surprise. University absorbed me and she was busy setting up a recording studio in Liverpool with her boyfriend. I’d think of her fondly, especially when Queen made their triumphant return at their 1985 Live Aid gig that electrified the world. I remember wondering whether she was watching too.
Last year, I got to thinking about Susan. Facebook does that to you – you think of friends who have slipped out of your life and look them up. I typed her name in Google and up it came. She worked in the music business, based in London. I also found her on Facebook. Nervously, I sent her a message. Would she remember me?
She did. She said her jaw dropped when she got my e-mail. We caught up on what had happened in our lives. We fell into the cadence of old pen pals, this time via e-mail instead of the post box. Lovely can’t begin to describe how it felt.
I travel to London at least once, often twice, a year. It's my favourite city in the world. Susan and I arranged to meet last year for lunch. She booked a table at Babylon, a fabulous restaurant in the Kensington Roof Gardens, home to some of Queen’s most infamous after-concert and record release parties. She did it because she knew I’d love it. That’s the kind of person she is.
I think we were both a little nervous. So many years had passed and our lives were completely different. But as soon as we sat down and started chatting, it was like being with an old friend I’d known forever. The years fell aside. We laughed, drank champagne and toasted finally meeting each other in person, more than three decades after that first letter.
We’re still in touch. We trade tidbits over e-mail to commiserate over boys and obstreperous body parts and to talk about travel. I was just in London in February and the two of us hung out. We went to Birmingham to see another favourite group, Roxy Music. I'll be seeing her again in June.
Last year was Queen's 40th anniversary - the band has not only been a soundtrack to my life, it has given me a dear friend. Thank you Freddie, Roger, Brian and John. Long live Queen!
About our contributor:
How I discovered Queen: When I was 13 a friend put on "A Night At The Opera" and I was immediately hooked.
Favourite Album: Sheer Heart Attack.
Favourite Track: I'm In Love With My Car
Favourite Single: Somebody To Love
With thanks to The Globe and Mail.