Kent Life interviews Sir Bob Geldof
PUBLISHED: 22:25 28 November 2013 | UPDATED: 22:25 28 November 2013
As he reforms the band that made him a household name in the seventies, the Faversham resident talks about his life, career, politics and a few home truths
Equal parts controversial rock star, activist and philanthropist, Bob Geldof is the kind of man who naturally divides opinion.
For every good deed from one of the men who brought us Band Aid and Do They Know It’s Christmas? there’s a backlash against something he’s done or said.
Certainly, as one of the world’s most profane and plain-speaking celebrities, it’s not hard to see how Geldof could rub people up the wrong way. “Captain Chuckles I ain’t,” he laughs. “That’s the one perception of me that’s spot on.
“I’m a lightning rod and a whipping boy. Bono and I, we’re the jumped-up pop stars who should shut up and go back to our rock star mansions. But somebody in the pub will always say, ah yeah but he has a point.”
The Davington resident, now a sprightly 61, is of course referring to his work in raising funds for famine relief in Africa, with himself, U2’s front man Bono and numerous hand-picked others sticking their necks out to make people pay attention. “We were making a point, and that’s really powerful politically,” he says.
“Get them talking in the kitchen, the dining table, the pub and the café. You won’t get on television talking about Africa and poverty. I will.”
Geldof is one of the most colourful personalities around, with a career that straddles many areas. Having risen to prominence as the effusive frontman in Irish band The Boomtown Rats in the mid-1970s, he set out his stall pretty early with political themes.
A social collapse in California inspiring I Don’t Like Mondays, probably the band’s best-known song, profanities uttered on TV, attacking the Catholic church and Irish politicians on Gay Byrne’s Late, Late Show and other outspoken outbursts have marked him out as something of a loose cannon from the earliest days.
However, Geldof clearly made an impression as someone whose passion often reached boiling point, such that it threatened at times to overshadow the Rats’ musical endeavours.
But having played their last official performance at Self-Aid in 1986 – an effort to raise awareness of unemployment in Ireland – the Rats are now back with a greatest hits collection, a few new songs, and are midway through a tour of the UK and Ireland. So why come back now, nearly 30 years later?
“It’s a really powerful band and I’d forgotten that,” he says. “It’s so weird that a random group of individuals came together and they make this noise that’s very specific and, as it turns out, very powerful.
“You don’t get to be a success by mistake, it’s not an accident. The noise that we made happened to be the right noise to propel these songs forward. That racket and that drive and that really massive amount of anger in sound worked.”
As much as he may divide opinion, Geldof is by all accounts a very successful businessman. With a reported net worth said to be as much as £1billion, his fortune has come from a combination of owning the Rats’ back catalogue, some very shrewd property investment and building a media empire which at one point spanned production companies Ten Alps and the long-defunct Planet 24, birthplace of both The Big Breakfast and The Word.
And then between his business and philanthropic endeavours – including famine relief (Band Aid, Live Aid and Live 8) and stamping out poverty (Bono’s ONE campaign), officially recognised through his honorary knighthood and Nobel Peace Prize nominations – Geldof is very much a family man.
Father to three daughters with the late Paula Yates (and to the daughter she had with Aussie rocker Michael Hutchence, also deceased), he’s now a proud grandfather to second-born daughter Peaches’ sons Astala and Phaedra.
“Peaches is a great mum,” he smiles. “Having these two tiny, gorgeous little fellas around, I have to admit, is a bit weird for me. I’ve been surrounded by women all my life.
“Between my sisters at home in Dun Laoghaire, I’ve never not lived with a woman. There was a girlfriend, Daphne, when I first moved to London, living in a squat in Tufnell Park. And then Paula, and then Jeanne (French actress Marine). I swim in oestrogen. That’s all I’m used to and I’m all the better for that.
“I’ll do the grandfather thing when the boys become seriously sentient. Though I can’t do football or fishing with them. I’m awful at that. I’ll be down to the V&A boring them about Rosetti and Islamic art, playing ridiculous tracks to them, saying they should listen to Helmut Wolf!”
It’s difficult to see where Geldof might find any time to himself. “I don’t like to take breaks. To me, boredom is a traitorous friend. It prompts me to do things and remain exhaustively active.
“It all comes from back in the day when I was a kid. I was utterly afraid, living in this genteel poverty.
“I’m not asking for the violins but there was no one at home and I was cripplingly lonely. I just didn’t know it.
“So I have a fear of those two things – loneliness and poverty – and boredom gets me into this depression which puts me back into that place. And to stop going there, I stay frantically busy. And by being frantically busy, I have an interesting life.”
The fruits of his labours grow at his Davington Priory estate, near Faversham, where he’s lived for 30 years.
He’s well liked locally and earlier this year that affection was evidenced by support for his point of view in a planning application dispute, which he won.
He’s known for being approachable and not swaggering around like a rock star and indeed holds a deep affection for Kent – contrary to a story that was blown out of proportion in 2008 when he described the county as “a bit scruffy and worn at the edges.”
“Some of Kent is just astonishingly beautiful,” he smiles. “When I have time, I do like to explore, although time is a precious commodity. But Kent has the little hideaways that I adore, the villages scattered around that seem to evolve and get on with life completely untroubled by the world around them.
“I won’t name names as they won’t appreciate scores of visitors rolling through, but they’re special places.
“And Kent people are honest – brutally so at times, but lovely folk. I like to stop and chat because people here are rarely invasive, just like I’m not invasive in theirs lives. We all get on.”
He might be able to get a fresh perspective on the area if he flies over it during his space flight next year.
Hang on… space flight? Yes, Geldof has paid £64,000 for one of 100 seats in a privately built spacecraft.
“I’m going to be the first Irishman in space,” he laughs. “I can’t believe this is happening in my lifetime.”
An interesting life indeed. n