Mr. Leal is what you would call a real “Trooper”.
Fernando was only 16 when he first witnessed Iron Maiden in all their heavy metal, spandex glory. A colleague of his father’s took him to the festival Rockódromo in Madrid Spain to experience the lights, the smoke, and the thick stench of hairspray that makes up any proper heavy metal concert.
The gig was the most intense thing the youngster had ever experienced. Little did he know, he’d end up seeing the exact same spectacle hundreds of more times over the next three decades—230 more times, to be quite exact—from Mexico to Australia and pretty much everywhere in between.
“This is how I spend my vacations. Why would I sit on a beach for 15 days? That’d be a complete waste of time,” -- Fernando Leal
His love affair started in 1987, when Somewhere in Time—Iron Maiden’s space-themed synthesizer-heavy album—was released. Just like millions of other kids, Fernando was sucked in by the galloping bass lines and ghoulish imagery of the band. After experiencing it live for the first time, he was sold.
“I’ve seen every Spanish concert since,” he assures me, adding that he’s gone to great measures to make this happen. Once, for instance, he climbed out of the window at a military barracks in full combat gear in order to make it to a concert. To this day, he’s still a bit embarrassed he showed up with a shaved head.
After seeing them a few times in home country, the Spanish shows were no longer enough for Fernando Maiden (as he’s come to be known in the Spanish metal scene). So, in 1998, he grabbed his passport and headed to London.
“It was way different to see the band play on their home turf.”
Curious as to how the experience would translate across borders, he began traveling the globe to see Iron Maiden play. To this day, his biggest achievement is following the band through Japan and Australia, and eventually making it into one of their music videos.
“Check out’ Revelations (Flight 666), I’m in there for the first 10 seconds,” he says proudly.
Clearly, this heavy metal globetrotting doesn’t come cheap, but Fernando has a few things on side. “I don’t have kids, a car, or a mortgage, or whatever, so I have some extra money,” he explains. “For various health reasons I don’t drink, either, so I don’t actually go out that much. I just make sure to book tickets early, and most of the time I sleep in the airport. It’s cheaper. My trip to India and Dubai actually only lasted four days.”
Fernando’s boss is a pretty key character in this obsession; he’s relatively flexible with days off and doesn’t mind too much that Fernando sometimes shows up directly from the airport. However, it’s getting tougher to organize these spontaneous trips: “It used to be much easier to just pick individual days, but now the boss wants me to give much more notice if I’m heading off on tour,” says Fernando.
Leal doesn’t get off easy with his mates, either—some of them consider him a bit of a freak. “They grow up, marry, and have children. I’ve just chosen another way of life,” he says.
“My girlfriend is the only one who genuinely seems to understand me,” he adds, explaining that the pair often travel together and leave that extra bit of time for sightseeing.
According to Fernando, his level of dedication isn’t all that uncommon among Maiden fans. “I know a Swiss guy who’s done more than 300 concerts himself,” says Fernando, clearly impressed.
Over the years, Fernando has bumped into his heroes on more than one occasion. In Dublin, he even ended up drinking pints with Janick Gers, the band’s guitarist. However, he generally prefers to keep away.
“I like to keep my distance,” he says. “I don’t want to get disappointed, you know?”
“The day I get bored at a Maiden concert, I’ll stop going,” Fernando says. For now, that doesn’t seem too likely.