Did I infect Freddie? Who knows?

JIM Hutton was the ‘husband' of the late Freddie Mercury for seven years before the legendary Queen singer died of Aids in 1991. Jim is talking about their ‘marriage', being diagnosed as HIV positive four years ago, his book Mercury and Me, about watching Freddie die and being evicted from the £4 million mansion that Freddie left to his former lover Mary Austin - according to Jim, on condition that he could remain there.

Jim, who is nervous and uses his humour defensively, has bounded into the Hyde Park Hotel making jokes about putting the chandelier in his handbag. He has a rubicund face, moustache, angry eyes and receding black hair. Gone is the high clone look (white vest and jeans), replaced by a cheap looking tie and aquamarine jacket. He must have made an unlikely partner with the outrageous pop star. If you saw him in the street you'd imagine he was a suburban publican.

He and Freddie first met in a gay nightclub in 1983. ‘Freddie was slight and not the sort of man I found attractive,' wrote Jim, a hairdresser living in a rented attic. Then he re-met ‘Freddie Thing', as he called him, claiming not to have known who he was. Freddie promptly ravaged him. ‘When he got the urge for sex, there was no stopping him.' Jim moved into Garden Lodge and became Freddie's gardener.

Jim, with his Irish accent, recalls their relationship. ‘I wanted to give him a black eye a few times. But we gave each other love. We didn't have fisticuffs, just verbal fights. Then he'd give me the silent treatment - the last time it lasted over a week.

‘The night before Valentine's Day, we had a big fight - I don't know why - and he was giving me the silent treatment. I got him three dozen blue moon roses. I took them to him in bed where he was with his cup of tea and two doughnuts - one for him and one for his cat, Delilah. He just grunted.' They were, admits Jim, very different. ‘Freddie was sensitive, shy, had terrible mood swings and wanted his own way. I'm quiet and don't have much of a character,' Jim laughs, ‘unless you pour a few gallons of beer down me.'

He remembers happy times too. ‘Once in Germany Freddie jumped into my arms in broad daylight, in public, in a veg market of all places!' He looks embarrassed.

Then came Live Aid, the first concert Jim had ever attended. ‘To see Freddie up there controlling that crowd ... Tears welled up and the hairs on my neck stood on end.' Did they ever actually marry? ‘Good God no. We weren't that daft.'

Jim, the Irish Catholic son of a baker and seventh of 10 children, was brought up in a council house and left school aged 16. He claims he wasn't impressed by Freddie, who generated over £1 billion worth of sales. ‘Freddie dealt with his fame simply. He'd give an audience his all and afterwards he'd usually go straight home and sit in front of the television.' Jim claims he never saw any outrageous behaviour. ‘And we never discussed anything that had gone on before we met. Not previous boyfriends, childhood, nothing.' And drugs? ‘He wasn't snorting cocaine every night,' says Jim, defensively. ‘He'd have gone bankrupt if he had.'

Then Freddie told him he had full blown Aids. Curiously they never mentioned the subject again. ‘It was his cross and he wanted to carry it the way he chose - without burdening me. If something came up on TV to do with Aids, we'd turn channels.'

Was Freddie ashamed of having contracted it? ‘No, just annoyed. He said ‘there's such a stigma attached to this'.'

JIM then had a test in 1990 and found he was HIV positive. ‘When I heard, I just said ‘oh well'. That sounds flippant, but there's nothing you can do. I didn't tell Freddie, he had enough to deal with. I coped by going crazy in the garden, going haywire on weeding.'

Did he infect Freddie? ‘Who knows?' Later Jim had a second test and Freddie heard the result. ‘He was lying on the couch and all he said was, ‘the bastards'.'

What was it like watching Freddie die? ‘Indescribable.' In the book, Jim writes about the star's deteriorating health, ending sexual relations, watching him suffer, Freddie's last words (‘pee pee') and how, as they lowered him back onto his bed, there was a deafening crack. ‘It sounded like one of his bones breaking ... he screamed out in pain and went into a convulsion. When he died, I went into my bedroom, phoned my mother and cracked up. She couldn't understand a word, I was crying so much.' The funeral, Jim says, was a haze. ‘I kept saying, ‘He's not really dead'.' It was also the first time Mary, with whom Freddie had once lived for six years, snubbed Jim. ‘She said she didn't want me in the first car.' Afterwards he went home. ‘I picked up every video and CD of Freddie, played them for five hours a day for a week and cried.'

After Freddie's death, Mary had Jim evicted abruptly from Garden Lodge. Was there jealousy between these two, Freddie's ex-lovers? ‘I suppose if I were another woman I might have felt that. Mary loved Freddie, but, I'm sorry, Freddie didn't reciprocate.'

Does he feel betrayed that Freddie only left him £500,000? ‘No, I feel betrayed by the people he left in charge of carrying out his wishes.' Jim and Mary no longer talk.

Now Jim has a new ‘special relationship' (nobody famous, this time). ‘I didn't feel, ‘Oh I've got to wait a year after Freddie's died before I can start playing the field again.' But I don't have sex any more (because of being HIV). I don't miss it. I never was very highly charged sexually.' Nor, he claims, does he think about getting full-blown Aids. ‘I've got to get on with life. I can't just sit there moaning ‘how long have I got to live?''