Born Robert Frederick Xenon Geldof in Dublin, Ireland, he worked a stint as a music journalist before forming the band The Boomtown Rats. The Rats brought the world hits like 'Rat Trap' and 'I don't like Mondays' back in the late 70s. Sir Bob, as he's been known ever since Queen Elizabeth 2 knighted him in 1987, also played the central character Pink in Pink Floyd's cult film The Wall. Incidentally many half-baked Pink Floyd fans still think he is the lead singer.
Alas despite his illustrious musical career, politics is where Bob Geldof has had most of his success, and left his mark for other philanthropic leaning pop stars to emulate. However he does not have much of a following amongst South Africans. Recognised only as that dodgy, grey-haired geezer with the dark rings under his eyes who is always hugging Madiba when he's out doing his Make Poverty History thing. To remedy the situation, Bob is scheduled for a two gig tour of South Africa at the end of April.
It was Sir Bob who kickstarted the whole pop music can end global suffering campaign when he recorded, 'Do They know it's Christmas' along with Midge Ure from 80s synth pop sensation Ultra Vox, in 1984. The single exploded and evolved into the massive Live Aid concerts in 1985 to raise funds for the victims of famine in Ethiopia. He then went on to organise Band Aid and Band Aid 2. In a world where everyone with a recording contract dreams of someday writing a song that will change the world, Bob Geldof has effectively used the platform pop built to make a significant impact on the world political agenda.
'Hello!' He answers the phone in a husky Irish/Geordie accent.
'Is that Bob Geldof?' I ask feeling a bit silly.
'Speaking.' He says. No shit, I'm thinking, it's a scheduled interview.
Would you like to buy some household insurance? I want to chaff the rock'n roll politician. But play it safe with, 'Thank you for taking my call.'
'You're welcome, mate.'
'Word is you're coming to South Africa?'
'Yeah.' He says and then kicks off. 'Because I love it. And I've never played there. I'm off to Greece and the Middle East and Australia, but I've done those places for 30 years. And now, finally, I get to play in South Africa. I love it. It's another flag on my personal map. But it's also difficult, I obviously understand that people don't know me well, and particularly don't know me for the music. The Boomtown Rats wouldn't let their records be released there during apartheid. And since the end of that, I've been doing my solo thing, and that's been constantly interrupted by this other stuff I do. So I don't think there's much of a musical awareness of what I do. But I aim to alter that.'
'Do you see yourself as a musician or a politician?' I jump to it.
'Uh, my passport says musician and in my head that's what I do. Really, automatically, when I'm filling out visa forms when it says occupation, I say musician. It is the thing that is instinctive to me. Absolutely intuitive. When I walk out on stage it's like having a warm bath after a hard day's work. I'm just at home. I'm not nervous and I'm not thinking. That's the great thing, you suspend that empirical thought process. When I'm doing the other stuff, whether it's business or political stuff, you're thinking clearly about what it is you want to say.
So that goes when I'm on stage. And as a result it's psychologically calming, it's emotionally cathartic, it's physically exhausting, it's financially rewarding. So it's a total experience. As a result I sleep the sleep of the just after a good gig. Which is not normal for me. Normally I sleep, you know? badly.' He admits.
'I'm absolutely relaxed in that milieu. So it's a long answer but a very important question. It works like this for me. I do politics for my head. I do business for my pocket. I do music for my soul. And I do my family for my heart. That's kind of how it works.'
'Did Live8 achieve what it set out to do?' I fire in the break he takes to catch his breath. With Sir Bob it feels like your questions are levers that set boulders racing down a slope.
'Yes it did. Don't forget Live8 was just the articulation of the Commission for Africa. Which is what I asked Blair to do. To analyse the structures of poverty in Africa. With Live Aid we dealt with the symptoms of poverty. Death by hunger, which is caused by drought. We don't die of drought in Britain, though we have drought. We don't die of drought in Kansas or Queensland. Why do they die of drought in Africa? Because they are poor. Why do they die of ill health, when we don't? Because they're poor. Why do they die of lack of opportunity and education? Of conflict and corruption? Because they're poor. But all we could deal with were the symptoms of that because politics was locked into the Cold War. As soon as that was over, a new political flux came into the situation. Africa remains the only continent in economic decline. Why? There must be a reason. So at the beginning of the 21 st century can't we analyse that. And Blair agreed to do that. He then bravely accepted it as the British position in the G8. He had to push through the radical conclusions of the Commission for Africa. And Live 8 was the pointy end of the coalitions that arose to push this agenda through the G8. So you had the Make Poverty History coalition, which was a coalition of 60 groups. But all over the world there were coalitions. So how do you coalesce those coalitions? Live 8 was the pointy end of that, driving it through the G8.
The G8 agreed to deal with the Debt and the Aid piece of the Commission for Africa, but not the Trade piece which is critical. They said they'd only deal with that at the Hong Kong WTO Trade Talks. The Doha development round in December. Which of course they signally failed to do. Which is a fucking disgrace!'
Like a rolling stone he continues.
'But they did deal with Debt and Aid. And the commission for Africa called for the cancellation, not the relief, which was the wording, the verbage up until then. We called for cancellation, and the G8 agreed to debt cancellation for the poorest 42 countries in the world. Today the poorest 19 have had their debt cancelled. But that is 14 countries in Africa alone, that's 290 million Africans, now, today, who are free for the first time of debt slavery. That's as a result of the G8 and Live8. We'll move on in the next 18 months to, I think, 32 countries. And then gradually up to the final full 42. I think there are 23 countries in Africa, and we will get all of them out of debt slavery within a year and a half.'
'With regard to Aid, it called for a doubling of Aid to Africa in graduated steps by 2010. Now the difficulty with that is where do you get the new money you have committed yourself to at Gleneagles? They can't raise more taxes because people would object. So they have to find new ways to do this. Britain has got a plan called the International Finance Facility. The French passed into law an airport ticket levy, so that people in the rich world will be taxed on their air travel. So they are trying to raise the money they promised. My fear is that Italy will renege completely because their economy is in the toilet. They are in effect bankrupt. But Berlusconi came out and said that he would live up to it because we were going crazy that they were doing nothing. I don't believe it. But you know, the fight is on to get that done by 2010. I'm not hugely optimistic. But I'm fairly optimistic. Would this have happened without Live8? No? Would it have happened without the G8? No.'
'But.' I interject. Can large groups of rock fans around the globe influence the political agenda of the G8, considering they have no direct constituency?''Well they do. Any large gathering of people is political, if it's pointed towards a political end. If you have 3.4 billion people around the electronic hearth of the television screen, simply because the lingua franca of the planet is not English, it's pop music. And they understand what this is for. Then you get a massive? Would Bush or Chirac or Schröder have done anything if there was not a Live8 in their capital cities? No. Bush cannot leave America with a million children on the streets of Philadelphia, physically a million children, nevermind the millions watching. 35 million signed the electronic petition in America, in 2 hours. 35 fucking million! He cannot leave America without knowing he has to do something. You cannot have a million children on the streets of Rome, at the Circus Maximus and expect to return home and do nothing. That's not politically possible. I don't call for political or personal approval or a vote, I couldn't care less. I only want to persuade people that we have a coherent, logical argument. Do you agree? Can we all agree, left or right, that to die of want in a world of surplus is not only intellectually absurd, it is morally repulsive. Can we agree on that? Yes we can.'