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Geldof Never Set Out To Be A Hero

Who knew that sitting down to watch tv on an autumn saturday night in 1984 would change the world in six months.

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“Are you familiar with the works of Jung, Karl? …Jung speaks of what he calls synchronicity. Events sometimes having a coincidence in time and, because of this, the feeling that some much deeper motivation is involved.”

“The Eagle Has Landed” Jack Higgins

It’s a cold Saturday night, autumn October 1984. Geldof is home with his girlfriend and his young daughter. If you’re a rock star and you’re at home on a Saturday night, it means your career is not doing well. It was not for Geldof. His record company gave him and his band, the Boomtown Rats, one more shot if he was lucky.  His girlfriend, Paula Yates, was doing better than he was; he was now referred to far too often as Mrs Paula Yates. He had not had a hit in years. He was despondent, looking at a career on the rocks and wondering what on earth he would do with is life. He was only good at music. How was he going to make it? What was his life about?

Like most of the country that night, he witnesses the Ethiopian famine of biblical proportions on the 6 pm news. Thousands upon thousands of families on Tigray’s planes in what later be described as “the closest thing to hell on Earth”. The famine which raged from 1983 -1985 would claim 1.2million victims. The reports featured a young nurse, Claire Bertschinger, who, surrounded by 85,000 starving people, told of her sorrow of deciding which children would be allowed access to the limited food supplies in the feeding station and which were too sick to be saved. Traumatised by what she experienced, she didn’t speak about it for two decades.

On his couch at home, Geldof is struck by the insanity of it all. In a world of plenty, people are dying in these proportions. He looks at his daughter and feels lucky – ‘thanks god, it’s them instead’.  These words would later become the brutally challenging line “Thank God it’s them instead of you” in the fastest-selling single in music history – “Do They Know its Christmas?” Band-Aid. And raise 8 million UK pounds to help stop the famine, over 21 million pounds in today’s numbers.

“I have suffered a sea change, and nothing will be the same again.”

But all that was unknown and ahead of Bob that Saturday night. Later that night, at an industry event, he was appalled by the waste of food and decadence compared to what he had witnessed.

Across the UK, the charity switchboards lite up, and UK citizens were donating whatever they could. Paula Yates, Bob’s girlfriend, was no different. The following day –  Sunday morning – on the way to her hit TV Music show, she left 5 pounds on their kitchen bench to donate with whatever Bob could rustle up himself. He remembers looking at it and thinking – it’s a pitiful amount – what difference could that make – something more had to be done.

Realising that the only thing he had going for him was music – he came up with a charity record idea. It was October, and it needed to be in the shops well before Christmas if there was any chance at all. He teamed up with his friend Midge Ure, who was the golden boy of UK rock at the time. Midge produced and wrote the tune, while Geldof the lyrics. Their goal, with fingers crossed, to raise 70,000  pounds. That was the easy part.

Geldof then used all his rage against the famine’s injustice and brutal honesty to bully, cajole, sweet talk every leading UK musician he could get his hands on – to spend one day in a studio to record the song. As Bono would later recall – “if lyrical poetry didn’t work, spittle would soon follow”. He would later use those same tactics with anyone who got in there way. He was to make sure every penny raised would end up in Ethiopia, right down to the then Prime minister of UK Margaret Thatcher.

“Do They Know its Christmas?” is certainly not the greatest song of all time; even Geldof and Ure knew that then – with Bob, urging people to buy it even if they hated it – but it changed the world.

Bob Geldof never set out to be a hero. Still, those early actions motivated by and against the insanity and injustice of a preventable famine – the world has never been the same.

“Opportunity makes the man”

José de Alencar

Warren Buffet is quoted as saying if he was born a few thousand years ago, there is a good chance he would have been tiger meat. His particular skills and interests are suited to be born in the USA and the twentieth century; otherwise, he feels he would be particularly useless.

Emilie Schindler, scorned wife of Oskar Schindler of Schindler’s List fame, says of her husband, “Oskar had done nothing astounding before the WWII and had been unexceptional after that until his death. Therefore, he was fortunate that in that short, fierce era between 1939 and 1945, he met people who had summoned forth his deeper talents.” He will be forever known for those actions.

Here we have a known scoundrel; A philander, heavy drinking gambler, who possesses great charm and charisma. He uses all those typically problematic idiosyncrasies to charm and save the lives of thousands. Who, in turn, would save him until his death in 1974.

It is said that opportunity and preparedness need to come together for greatness to occur. For ourselves and others, all we can do is prepare to contribute in any way we can. To fight for all people’s rights to have the opportunity to become prepared and not just struggle for survival or be denied occasion to take advantage of opportunity.

The gods of fate are fickle; no one knows what is in store for each of us and what hitherto unknown talents lie dormant within.

Without that quiet autumn Saturday night, there would be no “Do They Know its Christmas?”, “We are the World.”. Live Aid, and Live Aid30. No FarmAid, No Bohemian Rhapsody – The movie, hundreds of copycat charity concerts, and of course thousands of lives and generations to follow.

“The time has come, Mr. Devlin, where I no longer control events – they control me.”

Something to think about.

Tell Next Time.

Resources To Be Inspired:

Live Aid. Against All Odds.


Written By Owen Thomas


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