Queen Guinness record fan
Queen Guinness record fan

QLD woman enters Guinness world records for movie obsession

Joanne Connor is sitting in "Queen corner", the little nook of her English tea room where the object of her affection - no, obsession - is celebrated in all his strutting, highly sexual glory. Displayed on the walls are photos of Freddie Mercury wearing an enigmatic smile, or leather, or a jumpsuit, with long hair, with short, or striking his trademark pose - fist raised to the sky in world-conquering style.

Sometimes, Connor says, she finds herself reaching out her hand to "touch" the charismatic lead singer of the pop-rock group Queen who died almost 30 years ago, aged 45. Connor gets teary now just thinking about Mercury's death but back then, as a young mother living in her home country of England, she wasn't a fan so it didn't register. "Now he's my life," says the 66-year-old. "He literally is."

Joanne Connor is the Guinness World Records holder for “the most cinema productions attended – same film”- after watch Bohemian Rhapsody 108 times. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Joanne Connor is the Guinness World Records holder for “the most cinema productions attended – same film”- after watch Bohemian Rhapsody 108 times. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

Ever since November 8, 2018, when Connor went to the cinema to see  Bohemian Rhapsody, the film about Mercury and his band's rise to fame, she has been transported to another dimension. A place where Queen's music lulls her to sleep every night, where her bedroom is a shrine to the love of Mercury.

A place where Joanne Connor of Redcliffe is the Guinness World Records holder for "the most cinema productions attended - same film". Bohemian Rhapsody goes for two hours and 13 minutes - and Connor sat through it 108 times.

In fact, she says, she saw it up to 15 times more than that but some of her attendances couldn't be verified. And as for viewings on DVD, she stopped counting when it hit 300.

She's thrilled to meet me, she says, because it gives her the chance to talk more about her idol. Heaven knows, her friends are "all Freddie'd out". I'm new blood, and we're getting on well as I tell her his work was part of the soundtrack of my youth; that I phoned a friend to mourn the loss of a soaring talent the day the news of Mercury's death was released.

Then I utter six words: "I haven't actually seen the film."

Connor looks aghast, like she's been punched. She mutters something. I'm not sure if I hear her correctly. "You think what?" I ask.

"I think that's disgusting," she says.

She breathes deeply, shoots me a look somewhere between disbelief and pity, and escorts me into her world.

CONNOR was not a big moviegoer but when a friend suggested seeing the new Queen film she thought she might as well. An outing would do her good. She'd been "very down" for the past few years - the man she'd migrated to Australia to be with in 2000 had "broke my heart".

So, at 3pm, she closed Teddies 'N' Sweets, the olde-worlde English tearoom she owns in Comino's Arcade on the Redcliffe waterfront, and set off for a matinee viewing at the local cinema at Kippa-Ring.

Connor at her English tea room cafe in Redcliffe. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Connor at her English tea room cafe in Redcliffe. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

"The minute it started, I was like, 'Wow'," she says. The first few minutes, set to the gospel-esque Somebody to Love, shows Mercury readying for Queen's famous performance at the 1985 musical and humanitarian extravaganza that was Live Aid. "The curtains open and Freddie (played by Rami Malek) walks out," she says, beaming. "Then it goes right back to the beginning and leads up to Live Aid again."

She stops herself. "I'm spoiling the film for you." Then, in semi-playful admonishment, she adds: "But you should have seen it already."

Just what it is that captivated her so ­completely is difficult for Connor to pinpoint. "Just the whole thing!" she says. Asked to expand a little, she says: "It's such a rollercoaster of a film; you're singing one minute, you're ­crying the next, then laughing, then singing. It's like that all the way through. That's what I love about it."

She was on a high when she walked out of the cinema. "Brilliant," she posted on Facebook. "I feel like I've been to Live Aid!" The buzz stayed with her for days. It played on her mind. She had to see it again. A bit over a fortnight later, she was back. "And as I walked out, I thought, 'I've got to watch it again'."

And so began "the best time of my life". Every day, generally around 6pm she would make her way to Kippa-Ring, buy a ticket (but never food - "too distracting") head to her favourite seat, C9, and be immersed in the world of Queen. "I went Christmas Day and I went New Year's," she says. "I went every single day."

Other people started to question her sanity. So did she. "You start thinking about it, justifying it to yourself, and the thing was, I could sit at home and watch tele where there's nothing on, or I could go to the cinema and watch something I love. What am I going to do? Go to the cinema.

"I might be mad but if it's making me happy, who cares? I'd rather be mad and happy than sane and miserable." Plus, she says, her four months of intense cinema-going was good for her health: she lost 10 kilos - "not sitting at home, eating" - and came off antidepressants.

Joanne Connor in her Guinness World Record holder T-shirt. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Joanne Connor in her Guinness World Record holder T-shirt. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

As her interest grew, she joined a Facebook group for lovers of the film, revelling in finding a place where no one judged her obsession. Her growing tally of viewings got fellow fans talking about breaking records. Surely, she was getting close to one, they said.

"But I was never going for the record," she says. "I was only going because I wanted to go." Still, she looked it up when she'd seen the film about 80 times. The record was 103 viewings - awarded early last year to North Carolina's Anthony Mitchell for Avengers: Infinity Wars.

She was close. But she'd have to move fast. By then it was March last year and screenings were on the wane. The Kippa-Ring cinema was only showing it at 10am so she'd leave the tea rooms in the hands of her friend Lu Dillon and head off. (Dillon is here now, serving behind the counter. She invited Connor to the movie the first time. A good friend, she accompanied Connor to about 30 showings until she couldn't take it anymore. "I'm over it," confirms Dillon.)

Sometimes Connor would be the only one in the cinema, sitting in C9, lapping up every minute. Then Kippa-Ring stopped showing it. So she drove 20km to Strathpine. She squeezed in a few viewings there before she found out it was due to close. She went to see the manager, Kheenan Holzberger, when she was 10 viewings short of her target. "I said, 'Look, I'm this close to the record, can you keep it on at the cinema for just a little bit longer?'" Holzberger "was wonderful": he put it on loop and Connor saw the film 10 times in two days.

There's a photo of her at the last showing, dressed in white singlet, jeans and silver-studded bicep bracelet - just like Mercury at Live Aid. She's surrounded by friends, including Dillon, who joined her for the last hurrah. "If they hadn't been there, I think I would have just sat and sobbed. I did get upset but they helped me through," says Connor. "I just felt very empty."

Part of Connor’s collection of Queen memorabilia. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Part of Connor’s collection of Queen memorabilia. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

It wasn't over yet, though. Now began the lengthy process of having the record verified. It took almost a year of providing more details but finally it was approved in February this year. She's thrilled. Not for her, she insists, but "for Freddie".

Somewhere along the way, the love of Queen and the film morphed into a love of Mercury. She was captivated by his story; his drive, his flamboyance, his genius. Apart from the film, she was now watching every Queen concert and video she could find. Although it's Malek on the screen in the film, "I see Freddie".

She cries every time she watches the scene where Mercury, who was always coy about his sexual preferences, is told he has HIV/AIDS. The film was widely criticised by the LGBTIQ community for "straightwashing" his bisexuality but Connor disagrees. "They don't go too deep into all that and you don't need it. Because you know. There's a couple of kisses in there but it's tastefully done." She understands Mercury's reluctance to come out in the '80s. "He would have been persecuted and it's nobody's business. But I mean, let's face it, if you didn't know, you must have been mad.

"And why should it matter? All he wanted was to make music. He wanted his music to be his legacy so this film, it's brought a whole new load of fans in and his legacy is carrying on."

She looks around her Queen corner, at the wall of photographs, the Bohemian Rhapsody bill posters, her cushion covered in Mercury's image (the long-haired version), her cabinet filled with memorabilia, and then her eyes fall on the prize. In a frame, surrounded by a sample of her ticket stubs, is the certificate proclaiming her - the slow-off-the-mark but strong-finishing fan of a long-dead superstar - a world record holder.

 

Even Connor’s bed is covered in Freddie Mercury paraphernalia. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Even Connor’s bed is covered in Freddie Mercury paraphernalia. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

CONNOR still watches Bohemian Rhapsody every second night. After dinner, she retires to her bedroom - "My bed is covered in Freddie" - and settles in to laugh and sing and cry with the lads. On the alternate nights, she watches a Queen concert, although she admits the lifesavers from Bondi Rescue have recently caught her attention. "They're such lovely people," she says. "If ever I collapse, I want to collapse on the beach at Bondi. Nothing to do with what they look like, young men and everything. They're just so kind and caring."

She beams a girlish smile. There's a sweetness about Connor to match the old-fashioned rosy apples and barley sugar lollies in jars on the shelves in her store. She admits she battles with confidence and that Mercury's strutting chutzpah is part of his appeal. "He just gives you that confidence to say, 'Well, I'm doing it and if you don't like it, it's not my problem'."

Like her tattoo. It's only small, on her right wrist. It's the title of the Queen song, Don't Stop Me Now. As Mercury says, "I'm having such a good time, I'm having a ball".

She's been to London to stand outside Mercury's home in Kensington, and "feel his presence". She's been to Montreux, Switzerland, the town on Lake Geneva that Mercury called his sanctuary, to soak up the atmosphere he loved and pose next to a bronze statue of him. She went to see Queen perform when they toured this year, and was invited backstage to meet original band members Brian May and Roger Taylor. "It was just an unbelievable moment," she says.

"This has done more than fill a void. This is the best time of my life. This brings me happiness every single moment of every single day."

And every time she watches the film, tucked up in her bed surrounded by cushions with Mercury's face on it, she pours a drink in readiness for one of her favourite scenes, a poignant reflection on loneliness. Mercury is in his empty mansion, talking on the phone to Mary Austin, his one-time girlfriend and "love of my life". It's late. He asks Austin to raise a glass.

And Joanne Connor does, every time. "And I say 'Cheers' with him, and when he says 'Goodnight', I always say, 'Goodnight Freddie'."

Originally published as Brisbane woman enters Guinness world records for movie obsession


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