Friday 30 January 2015

The saving of Geldof's soul

Bob Geldof talks to Barry Egan about the mother he can't remember, the agony of losing wife Paula Yates to Michael Hutchence, finding happiness with French actress Jeanne Marine, the joy of having his children enjoy his music and the relevance of the Boomtown Rats' music today, as the band prepares to reform for a major gig

Bob Geldof

'A MOTHER'S happiness is like a beacon," Balzac wrote, "lighting up the future." Bob Geldof never had that light. The shadows gathered in his world from an early age and remain to this day. Evelyn, just 41, died of a brain haemorrhage when Bob was six.

I ask him can he remember her. He shakes his head – a head full of unkempt, salt-and-pepper hair. A few moments later, the 61-year-old says he can recall "Proustian things," what he terms "hints of a life": a velvet glove on her right hand – "up below the elbow, a velvet, long evening glove" and lipstick on a china tea cup, crushed-out cigarettes with traces of lipstick on them.

"This is what I used to do," Bob says putting his finger through his hair, indicating that it was as a young child he'd put his little finger through his mother's hair. "And put my thumb in my mouth and turn her hair like this while sitting on her knee."

From that, he says, you piece together an emotional sense – "not a visual image" – of a mother. They're triggers to what you felt, he adds, "but it isn't a sense of loss. That's rooted down deep and that's where the discontent comes from. There's always a sort of feeling of emptiness. I go like that" – he touches his lower stomach – "because it seems to be rooted here. 'It's a God-shaped hole, Bob,'" he says in a cod-Christian caricature of a hectoring Irish voice, "if you just accept it'."

"Others say: 'Poor Bob, you're missing your mother.' I'm not," he says firmly. "I'm not missing God, I'm not missing my mother. It is just a sense of it, which probably stems from my mother's death, but it doesn't impede. But the psychological thing must be some sort of animus. Must be. Not that it bothers me, that sense of easy desolation that overwhelms me ... "

Bob describes his panic stages from the ages of 11 to 15, where he would come home to an empty house in Dun Laoghaire. His father, a travelling salesman, was away all week. Bob had two older sisters; one was married, the other was at university.

"I had that sense of 'I need someone to hold on to me here'. That was the loss," Bob explains. "Adding to a bizarre fear of coming home and it is always November – in my head, my youth is always November – and the house is dark, I walk up the steps and I'd go in and I'd keep my head down. And if I don't keep my head down at the top of the stairs, there would be a woman looking at me."

His mother?

"I'd imagine it was my mum," he says, "but I don't know. And then, because I didn't want to light the fire, I'd turn on the gas oven and put my feet in the oven and tilt back in the kitchen chair and just read a book. But I daren't look at the window on to the yard, because there would be a face looking in the window like that. I remember that face. I'd say: 'Stop it, now'."

This story has echoes of something Geldof told me in an interview in 2002 in London: in 1995, when his wife Paula Yates publicly left him for INXS pop star Michael Hutchence, leaving him a broken man bordering on madness.

"I was actually mad," he recalled of that time of being temporarily parted from his children, Fifi [born March 31, 1983], Peaches [March 13, 1989] and Pixie [September 17, 1990]. Bob added by way of explaining his madness that he could hear their footfall on the stairs. And he would shout out to them in the morning – "7.30am? What are you doing up, love?"

The sad fact was Bob was utterly alone in the house. "I would suddenly twig that I was talking to those ghosts," he told me in 2002, "and I would smell them going up to bed. I would go in to tuck them up and I would be actually at the bed, and the bed was flat and I would just collapse."

Freud believed that traumatic experiences that a child cannot process, because they occurred too early in life, persist in the mind as existential anxieties. Geldof's pre-existing and unresolved abandonment fears because of his mother's death were magnified into something awful for the 48-year-old Bob when Yates in effect abandoned him for Hutchence.

I ask him if that fear of being abandoned ever goes away. When Jeanne Marine – his partner of 16 years – goes away for a weekend, does he fear at a subconscious level she is never coming back?

"He couldn't. He was a man of his time," he says of Robert, who died on August 26, 2010 at the age of 96. "You met my dad. He was a very broad-minded, intellectual man. His grasp of things and his perspective of them was solid. You could have a proper argument with him. But what he wasn't capable of dealing with – nor was I – was: 'Dad, I think all this stuff is because I miss my mother ... ' What he would accept is that he went off the rails because of it. No question about that. All of us were deeply affected by it, as are my lot by what happened to their mum," he says, referring to Yates, who died of a drug overdose at her home in London in September, 2000.

"And you deal with the fallout of that all the time. Unfortunately for my lot, they get beaten up for what happened in their life."

There were other subconscious factors at work, too. Bob told me in an interview last summer that Paula's family was "uber-weird." (It was only in 1997, the year she died, that Paula discovered that her biological father was TV host Hughie Green, rather than the man she thought was her dad, Jess Yates, himself a TV star who had been plagued by controversy) "She was an only child. She was parked into boarding school at a young age, then taken from Wales where they lived ... and moved around the place." As a result, she, Bob remembered, "was completely obsessive about family in an Enid Blyton way. So, without realising it, the family was so important to us because neither of us had it."

Irish Independent

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