Friday 24 March 2017

Bob Geldof Snr

Tough, intelligent and strong, the singer's father passed his independent spirit to his children, writes Barry Egan

The death notice posted by the Geldof family ended with the words: 'Travelling light'. Bob Geldof Snr -- who is survived by his sister Mai, his three children, Bob, Cleo and Lynne, six grandchildren and a great-granddaughter -- was much-loved during his long, light journey on this earth.

He was admired by those who met him down the years. "Bob Snr was a trooper. He was an independent spirit -- tough, intelligent and strong," Niall Stokes, editor of Hot Press, told me on Friday night. "Seeing him in action, you knew that he had passed on to his son a lot of the qualities that make him such a substantial character. He had a fantastic innings, which was a mark of his resilience in the face of the terrible things that life can throw at you. Would that we all had that fortitude."

Bob Jnr recently spoke about his father's friendship with U2's Bono, revealing the pair bonded over their shared back injuries. "Bono was much closer to him [than me]," singer Gavin Friday told me. "I met him briefly once or twice and was taken by him being such a 'gentle gentleman' in the truest sense of the world." Gay Byrne told me of "knowing of the strong bond between Bob and his dad".

They say a son never truly becomes a man until his father dies. Bob Geldof, always a man of great integrity, actually didn't need to wait for dad's passing to reach manhood.

Bob Snr died in St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, last Thursday morning at the tender age of 96. His funeral Mass will be held in St Joseph's Church, Glasthule, Dublin, next Tuesday with burial at Deansgrange Cemetery. There was a do at Dun Laoghaire Yacht Club on Friday night for family and friends.

Bob Snr was a keen sailor. He worked on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary from Southampton on June 5, 1936, in catering. His own father Zenon Geldof, born in Ypres, Belgium, was something of a catering legend too. He worked all over London before his culinary genius touched restaurants like the Café Belge and Patisserie Belge in Dublin.

Zenon and his wife, Amelia, had four children: Sonny, Mai, Cleo and, of course, Bob Snr. Bob went into the same business, working as a chef in London's Carlton Club and then for the Cunard Line. He came home to build up his own business, working as a manufacturer's agent, and married his true love Evelyn. They had three children, Lynne, Cleo and Bob Jnr.

His wife died in 1958 when their youngest child, Bob, was just seven. Only 40, Evelyn died of a sudden brain haemorrhage. Young Bob told me in London, in 2006, that he could remember the night it happened, and the morning after. He dealt with it pragmatically. "But I cried when my dad cried; when he told me. I had never seen my dad cry, and that was shocking," he said.

The loss began to attack him, he remembers, when he was 11. It manifested itself in breathlessness; he developed asthma. He lost interest in his studies at Blackrock College. "Nothing was important," he told me. "I was very angry."

Because his father was constantly away for work, Geldof was "left with a permanent sense of emptiness". All that remained, it seemed, was the anger. I asked him once if his father ever wondered why he was so angry. Or did he ever beg him to tone it down?

"He didn't, to his great credit," Bob said. "He was always quite angry himself. It was a political anger because he adhered to one party and loved the other. He was quite clear-headed and clear-sighted about who they were and what they were -- the corruption. And he would talk volubly in the pubs about it."

Looking back, he said, he had tried to put the abrupt passing of his mother in the context of his career (as the angry young man of the Boomtown Rats) and life (the angry young man who fed Africa and shouted "Give us your fucking money now!" in front of a TV audience of 1.5 billion on Live Aid in July 1985.) "It's commonplace when a parent dies very young that you don't understand the consequences," he said. "You don't understand infinity. And you certainly don't understand that it's forever. But a part of you does, and the organism kicks in for survival."

Because his father was a travelling salesman working long hours, survival in early life was about getting the food and the coal in for Bob Jnr because, he remembered, the house was cold. The Geldofs didn't have "wedge".

"We're talking about the Fifties, so you grow up independent with a strong sense that you've been hard done by, which gets translated into injustice. So here are things that have failed you, like authority."

Bob also remembered the moment on the Late Late Show when he character-assassinated his father. "I went at him because we had a very bad son-father thing going on. I just went for him. He said afterwards: 'You were a bit hard on me.' I felt for him. It was a long time ago." It was fittingly beautiful perhaps that in later life father and son seemed inseparable at public events -- not least when Bob Jnr received the freedom of Dublin city in 2006. And now when Bob Snr has been granted freedom from his illness.

Sunday Independent

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