Why Elizabeth Taylor Got Famously Real About Sex at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992
And, boy, did she. “We are here to tell the whole world that [Freddie] like others we have lost to AIDS, died before his time,” said the screen legend (who was 60 at the time), dressed in slim black pants and a glittering Versace jacket. “It needn’t have happened. It shouldn’t have happened. Please, let’s not let it happen again!”
The moment, was “electrifying,” Taylor’s granddaughter, Naomi Wilding, 43, tells PEOPLE. She had accompanied her grandmother to the concert. “I think it was the first time I ever witnessed my grandmother’s effect on people.”
She adds the effect was “like being transported to another place, another level in time and space.”
“I felt deeply proud that she was my grandmother. That she was a leader.”
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Mercury, who is the subject of a new biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, had only released a statement that he had AIDS, a day before his death in 1991.
Taylor, who founded The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991, had already been galvanized to speak out on behalf of those with AIDS, after losing dear friends to the disease, and the death of her friend, actor Rock Hudson, in 1985. And Mercury’s death further fueled her activism.
“She saw it as an opportunity to reach more people,” says Wilding of the tribute concert. “Suddenly, there were a whole lot of other people that needed to understand the severity. And who were vulnerable. You never thought someone like Freddie Mercury could be vulnerable.”
Taylor spoke that night with her usual candor. “Every time you have sex, use a condom,” she told the crowd. “Every single time. Straight sex. Gay sex. Bisexual sex. Use a condom, whoever you are.”
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“Across the board, she was like that, with us, even as kids,” recalls Wilding, who runs the Wilding Cran art gallery in Los Angeles, along with her husband. “She always said what she meant. Perhaps, that was why she was perfect for this role. She said exactly what she thought needed to be said, without skirting the issue or trying to be polite. It was an issue of sex. People having sex. How they had it. How they protected themselves. How they loved each other. Very few people had grandmothers like that, in my generation. She was definitely different as a grandmother.”
Wilding remembers how she took the train from her home in West Wales, to London, the night before the concert, to meet Taylor at the home of her friend, Elton John. As Wilding recalls, “Elton sent a driver to meet me at the station and took me back to his house, where I was meant to meet my granny. Only, she was notoriously late. There, were the Queen band members, Elton, George Michael. I had to get to know everybody myself before she arrived. It was terrifying but everybody was very sweet. I think they took pity on me!”
The tribute concert the next day is something she’ll never forget.
“My grandmother was energized and inspired and you could see it,” Wilding recalls. “She was in a really good place personally and physically. She’d been in rehab and she was sober. She’d lost the weight she had prior. With the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, she had a purpose in life. It was an incredibly positive change for her. And gave her a sense of purpose.”
And it made Wilding view her “Granny” a bit differently. “To see her effect on people, was awe-inspiring,” she says. “It was awesome. Literally. I don’t usually use words like that, but it was awesome.”
Wilding, is one of several of Taylor’s grandchildren, who continue to work in her name as an ETAF ambassador.
“One of the things we talk about with our advocacy is the need for comprehensive sex ed,” she says. “My grandmother always understood that. The need to be open and frank, and honest and respectful. And always treat others with mutual respect.”