Thursday 15 November 2018

"Bono and I, we're the f**king eejits..."

Bob Geldof
Bob Geldof

Stephen Milton

'I'm a f**k up," Bob Geldof loudly announces to a semi-packed pub in south London, raising furtive glances from a few curious punters.

It seems his eminence as an effusive front man, a humanitarian legend, media mogul and political rabble-rouser are null and void in the greater scheme.

"I'm not comfortable being me," he continues. "There's this constant agitation in my head and my stomach that's always there. I can't shake it off."

It's difficult to tell if he's genuine or if it's a self-deprecatory ruse for a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

"There's the pop-singer part of me and the business part, and 'the guy who gives all these talks' part. And sometimes you just want to say, 'f**k off to it all'."

Geldof takes a sip of water before bowing his head, partially exposing the crown of his pork pie. "I really don't want this interview to be the inevitable 'Bob profile', you know?" he quietly sighs, consistently maintaining this mantra throughout our two-and-a-half-hour chat.

"I want it to be about the Rats. I'm up for the f**king Rats. I've rediscovered how meaningful they were and I'm fully convinced we were the first modern band to come out of Ireland."

Staring past my shoulder, he says, "I just don't want it to be all about me".

But hasn't it always been about Bob?

When we meet late morning at The Mason's Arms, close to his Battersea home in south London, it seems Geldof has no interest in this interview whatsoever.

Striding inside with a wobbly, bouncing strut, he eschews any pleasantries, virtually ignoring my company after some squirmy eye contact. He chooses instead to focus on photographer Hannah.

He then makes for a quiet corner of the unopened pub, accessed as a favour to the rocker. While staff hurriedly set up for the lunchtime trade, he brusquely commands: "Can we get on with this?"

When the Boomtown Rats signed a deal with Ensign Records in 1977 and released their debut self-titled album, it was always all about -- as music journalist Martin Strong once put it -- "a charismatically moody singer who lent the band a distinct identity".

"No, it was about the band. If it was all about me, I wouldn't be here doing this interview today," he interrupts with a moody glower. He's nattily attired in a brown-and -white paisley shirt, chocolate jeans and the aforementioned large-brimmed pork pie, perched atop a wild salt-and-pepper thatch.

He looks astonishingly youthful for 61 years, it must be said.

"We were this special unit. It's so weird that a random group of individuals came together and made this noise that turned out to be very powerful. You don't get to be a success by mistake. If you're shite, you're shite."

Twenty-seven years after their last official performance at the RDS for 1986's Self Aid, The Boomtown Rats have finally reformed, with live dates, fresh tracks -- 'Back to Boomtown' and 'The Boomtown Rats' -- and a new greatest hits collection, 'Back to Boomtown: Classic Rats Hits'.

Next month sees a 17-date UK and Ireland tour kick off with two nights, October 12 and 13, in Dublin's Vicar Street.

Founding bandmates Pete Briquette, Simon Crowe and Garry Roberts all return on bass, drums and guitar respectively. Members Gerry Cott and Johnnie 'Fingers' Moylett had no interest in the reunion.

When the Dun Laoghaire-founded quartet pitched up for their first big comeback performance at this summer's Isle of Wight Festival, a giddy Geldof used his own patented method of self-promotion to break up a set of their greatest anthems such as 'Rat Trap', 'Someone's Looking at You' and 'I Don't Like Mondays'.

"We needed a stop in between tracks, and I just starting roaring, 'We're The Boomtown Rats'. And the crowd goes, 'YEAH'. And I go on, 'We're mega'. And they chant back, 'YEAH'.

"And I say, 'We're magnificent. We're monumental. We're the living Mount Rushmore'," the singer chuckles, a warmth in his outward demeanour faintly detectable.

"It just seemed to fit. We look ragged and ancient. No make-up, no attempt to hide age, I don't like that. I think it's just as punk to look your age. Doesn't matter at this point."

After five albums, 'A Tonic for the Troops' (1978), 'The Fine Art of Surfacing' (1979), 'Mondo Bongo' (1981), 'V Deep' (1982) and 'In The Long Grass' (1984), Geldof always stressed he had no interest in going 'back to Boomtown'.

Ten years ago, he was quoted as saying, "We are never going to reform. I've no intention of reliving people's youth for them."

Feasting on his words now, so to speak? "I've always said I won't do nostalgia," he quips. "There's no rearview mirror in this particular car. It was more down to curiosity. Was it as good as I remembered? And cash," he smiles, "always handy. Some of the guys weren't as lucky as me."

According to wildly varying reports, Geldof has a net worth stretching somewhere between ¿37m to ¿1.4bn, partially a result of ownership of the Rats' back catalogue and the subsequent success of solo records, including 'Deep in the Heart of Nowhere' (1986) and 'The Vegetarians of Love' (1990).

Most of his fortune, however, is largely down to canny property investment and a media empire, which at one point spanned production companies Ten Alps and the long defunct Planet 24, birthplace of 1990s Channel 4 phenomena 'The Big Breakfast' and 'The Word'.

He sank a large amount of this into 8 Miles, a Kofi Annan-backed fund named to reflect the distance between Africa and the most southernly tip of Europe. It raised ¿250m last year, which will be invested across the continent.

Critics immediately lambasted the controversial scheme that could potentially make Geldof massive profits. But surely if anyone's entitled to take the plunge into fast-growing African markets -- and the high returns they're offering -- it's the man who was the driving force behind the 1985 Live Aid concert, which helped raise €175m for victims of the Ethiopian famine.

"Those that we kept alive in Africa 30 years ago now need jobs," he remarks, unwilling to be dragged into the details of his own gain. "And so the last part of Bob's big adventure in Africa is to get private investment in there and create business.

"Africa is a continent of teenagers, 50pc under the age of 17. So where do you think global productivity is going to be in the future?"

Those concerned the Band Aid mastermind is neglecting his philanthropic pursuits for commercial gain can rest easy. The rocker's on Kofi Annan's Africa Progress Panel and Ban Ki-moon's Millennium Development Goals advocacy, not to mention the charitable initiative campaign ONE, which he helped establish with close pal -- and fellow saint -- Bono.

"Bono and I, we're the f**king eejits; the jumped-up pop stars 'who should f**k off back to our rock-star mansions'. But our involvement will always bring the argument to the pub. Someone there will always say, 'Ah yeah, he has a point'.

"And that's really powerful, politically. You won't get on television talking about Africa and poverty," he pointedly remarks, "but I will."

Downing an espresso, Geldof continuously fidgets, though he's now offering far more fixed eye contact than initially. There are smiles and winks and, after a preliminary curt impression, Boomtown Bob seems in jocular mood.

A natural born poet, he periodically breaks into lyrics from his songs, old and new, which prove difficult to differentiate from the sing-songy preach of his general dialogue. It's enthralling, though one wonders if he ever fully switches off.

"Never," Bob tells me. "I wake up in the morning and wander around the house with the phone in one hand and the guitar in the other, playing random notes. And I'll have a notepad and the TV control balanced on my leg, which will be going 90. It drives Jeanne f**king nuts, she always says to me, 'Just stop'.

"But I keep going because of boredom, which is a traitorous friend. It prompts me to do things and remain exhaustively active. It comes from back in the day when I was a kid, when I couldn't get anything going in Dublin. Was I working in an abattoir forever? Would I be always driving heavy equipment?

"Boredom gets me into this depression which puts me back into that place. And to stop going there, I keep frantically busy, always."

He quickly adds: "Plus I can't be lonely. I can't deal with that."

With his immediate family all safely contained inside London's city limits, surely it's a fear -- compounded by the death of his mother from a brain haemorrhage when he was only six -- that's kept largely at bay.

He lives in Battersea with French partner Jeanne Marine and their 17-year-old, Tiger Lily, whom they adopted after the passing of her biological parents, former INXS star Michael Hutchence and Bob's ex, Paula Yates. His grown-up girls, Fifi (30), Peaches (24) and Pixie (23) are only a few miles away.

And now, creeping towards his 62nd birthday, Bob is a grandfather to Peaches' young sons, 18-month-old Astala and five-month-old Phaedra, from her second union, with singer Thomas Cohen. So what will they call him? Papa Rat has a nice ring to it...

"Well, they're too young at this stage," he smirks, squirming in his seat.

Does he suddenly feel 'old'?

"I'm not freaked by it. I still have one [teenager] at home," says Geldof. "But Peaches is a great mum and he's a great guy, though it's full-on. They're very young parents with two tiny, gorgeous little fellas, which I have to admit, is a bit weird for me -- having guys around.

"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."

He continues: "I swim in oestrogen. That's all I'm used to and I'm all the better for that. And I'll do the grandfather thing when the boys become seriously sentient. Though I can't do football or fishing with them, I'm shite at that.

"I'll be down to the V&A [Museum] boring the arse off them about f**king Rossetti and Islamic art; playing ridiculous tracks to them, saying they should listen to Helmut Wolf."

So a typically grumpy grandpa, then?

"Well, Captain Chuckles I ain't. That's the one perception of me that's spot on."

It seems he's only too delighted with the cantankerous reputation.

"It dissuades people from annoying me," says Geldof. "The problem now; they come over to you with these f**king camera phones, asking for a photo. And I tell them to f**ck off and they're like, 'Yeah, I got him to say 'f**k off'. That's ultimately what they want."

As he repeatedly glances at the clock, it's time for a chronically restless Geldof to make tracks. He sheepishly says his goodbyes and it seems that maybe his aloof, curt greeting and surly disposition from earlier was simply down to plain old timidity.

And then Geldof halts as he reaches the main door of the pub, quickly turning on his heel. "Can you make sure this piece isn't just about me?" he bellows across the heads of lunchtime punters, agog at the sudden spectacle. "I just hate it when it's all about me."

He waves and disappears off on to Battersea Park Road while the entire premises stare in his direction.

'Back to Boomtown: Classic Rats Hits' is out now. Live dates: October 12 and 13 at Dublin's Vicar Street/October 18 at Belfast's Ulster Hall

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