If Bob Geldof’s Dublin band the Boomtown Rats had been more successful in the mid-‘80s, it’s quite possible that he never would have become one of the world’s leading humanitarian activists via his seminal Band-Aid and Live-Aid efforts on behalf of the African continent.
Geldof told author Julia Ogilvy, for a new book, “Turning Points,” about how he was spurred to action after watching a news report on Africa’s poor and starving. The Dubliner was quite frank in noting that his career was on the downside when he wrote the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” which really kicked off the celebrity activism on behalf of Africa which is still going strong today.
“When I think back to the TV reports of starving children, I realize I may have been more alert than another person simply because of my background. But you've got to understand the moment,” he said.
“Having been this very successful band, we were now on the downward slide. We'd (gone) past our sell-by date. There were no interviews, no recordings, the last record wasn't selling.
“I had a baby now. That's significant, because I was very worried about what was going to happen to us. I thought: Jeez, that's it, it's over -- that amazing part of my life, which didn't seem that amazing when I was doing it.
“I turned on the six o'clock news, and I remember (daughter) Fifi being cuddled up against me on the sofa and (partner) Paula on my other side, and we saw this devastatingly brilliant piece of news reporting. (The reporter) was shocked by what he saw and you could clearly see that.
“It may as well have had ‘For the attention of Bob Geldof’ on it. It was right for the mood I was in, the time of day, the condition of my life -- new family, no future, best part of my life over, evening, October. Here I was with a nine-month-old baby, and here I was seeing all these mothers and fathers and children, absolutely no different to us.”
From that day until now, and surely forever, Geldof has been a man on a mission. “The next day, I decided that to die of want in a world of surplus is not only intellectually absurd, it's morally repulsive,” he said.
“When I saw that, it really alerted my outrage, and that's what made me decide to write a song. I knew that putting a few quid in the box just wasn't enough.”
Losing his mother when he was only seven to a sudden brain hemorrhage was another defining moment in his life which also made him aware of the suffering all around him, even at home in Dublin.
“When I was very young, the things that interested me were reading and listening to the radio,” said Geldof. “I wasn't interested in school or sport - just the sport of politics. I did the anti-apartheid thing when I was 13, and I worked with the Simon community aged 15 and 16, going round Dublin all night with flasks of soup for the homeless. I was alert to that sort of thing.”