It’s 2015. HIV/AIDS is old news. Surely everyone knows about the disease by now, as well as how to prevent it. Or do they? Is it really still a problem?“It is huge,” said Pandora Heathcoe of Bohemian LA Productions. “Just within the state of Alabama, Jefferson County was No. 1 last year, but Baldwin County and Mobile have seen a significant increase in cases reported. That doesn’t even touch the unreported.” Heathcoe and her business partner, Amelia Gilley, are bringing to town “An Evening with Freddie” on Friday, Dec. 11. Admission is $50, and the proceeds will benefit Mobile AIDS Coalition and the Mercury Phoenix Trust.

The Venue at 105 S. Section St. in downtown Fairhope will host the event featuring Peter Freestone, the longtime personal assistant of Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the rock band Queen. He will talk about the late entertainer and the more than 12 years he spent as his right-hand man.Freestone will also discuss his ongoing effort to educate others about the disease (December is World AIDS Awareness Month), as well as take audience questions and sign copies of his book about Mercury.

A one-hour film documentary about the music legend “The Great Pretender” will be screened during the event.Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar (now Tanzania) died Nov. 24, 1991 at age 45 after releasing a formal statement nearly two days earlier that he had contracted AIDS. He had known for quite some time that he had the disease, but kept news of his diagnosis from the public until the end of his life. Heathcoe said Freestone worked for the London Opera House before joining Queen’s staff. He worked with the musicians for about a year before Mercury asked him to become his personal assistant. Freestone was Mercury’s media liaison, and performed many of the duties of a secretary. They became very good friends, and he took care of the Grammy award-winner until he died. Heathcoe said Freestone is a British native who now lives in the Czech Republic. He travels extensively, working with colleges and high schools regarding opera and the arts, but also educates young people about HIV/AIDS.

The CDC reports that one out of four sexually active people have HIV and don’t know it. And around 25 percent of all HIV cases are youth, ages 13-24. One area organization, AIDS Alabama South, currently serves 372 active cases. Around 42 percent of those clients are female and 20 percent are less than 20 years old. Heathcoe said, “A lot of it has to do with the stigma of the disease. People associate the disease with a particular lifestyle. The cases that we’re seeing now are from unprotected sex, drug abuse and sexual abuse of children.”

More young people are contracting HIV/AIDS these days in part because they are becoming sexually active at an earlier age. Adults often don’t want to believe their son or daughter might make the very adult decision to have a sexual relationship. “They think you should abstain from sex,” Heathcoe said. “They are under the assumption that my young child, my teenager is not going to have sex. We’re still living in that society where ‘let’s just turn a blind ear.’ It’s a lack of education, lack of awareness and lack of the ability to just go get tested.” Heathcoe added, “Peter’s planning on carrying on the legacy of Freddie Mercury by continuing to be a voice, bringing awareness, education and resources to help those affected by the disease.”

In Freestone’s book, “Freddie Mercury,” he explores the real person behind the showman, and not Mercury’s lifestyle or HIV/AIDS. Heathcoe said, “I appreciate that immensely. I personally have lost five people to this disease, and that’s why this event is so important to me.”

Heathcoe and Freestone became friends seven years ago, and she said she has long wanted to bring this event to the Alabama Gulf Coast.  When asked to participate in the event, “He (Freestone) said, ‘where do you need me to be, and when do you need me to be there?’ I’m excited to bring him to Fairhope, and let him see our beautiful town.”
Doors open at 5:45 p.m., and a cash bar will be available before the film begins promptly at 6:30. The Q&A and book signing by Freestone will follow the documentary.

Sponsors of the event include Molyneaux Foundation Trust, Symbol Health Solutions, Pinzone’s Italian Downtown, The Venue, Cadeaux Cache, McConnell Automotive, Pinnacle Imports, Mobile Antiques, Jubilee Printing, Fox Den Photo, Corey Lipscomb Ephyreal Films and June Bozeman Call a Doctor Plus. For more information, or to purchase tickets to the event, visit Tickets are also available at Cadeaux Cache on Fairhope Avenue in downtown Fairhope.