‘I have another brother I didn’t know I had, or maybe I did’ — Bono reveals his father had a secret son
The U2 frontman tells how his father Bob had a secret son with another woman and how he now understands his dad’s struggles
Bono has revealed he has a half-brother on his father’s side who was kept a secret from him growing up.
The U2 frontman (62), who already has an older brother called Norman, reveals the existence of their half-brother in an interview to be broadcast today with Lauren Laverne on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs music and chat show.
Nobody knew about this secret, he said, including his mother Iris who died in 1974 after an aneurysm at her own father’s funeral when the singer was 14.
“I do have another brother whom I love and adore that I didn’t know I had, or maybe I did,” Bono, whose real name is Paul Hewson, said.
“My father was obviously going through a lot but partly his head was elsewhere because his heart was elsewhere. So I think that was part of the problem I was picking up as a kid.
“It’s a very close family and I could tell that my father had a deep friendship with this gorgeous woman who is part of the family and then they had a child and this was all kept a secret.”
Bono’s father Bob died in 2001.
On the programme, he also discusses the reaction to his verse about Ukraine, defends U2’s tax arrangements and talks about the impact surgery had on his approach to music.
After his mother’s death, he “grew up in a house with three men shouting at each other. Rage was the lingua franca”.
In the interview with Laverne, whose own mother died on Friday, Bono said it was many years later before he had a conversation with his father about his secret son.
“I asked him did he love my mother and he said yes. And I said how can this happen and he said it can and that he was trying to put it right, to do the right thing. He wasn’t apologising, he was just stating these are the facts. I’m at peace with it,” he said.
Part of reaching that peace was apologising to his father for not being there for him during the period of grieving after Iris died, when Bob would also have been grappling with the reality of having another family.
“It was a complicated relationship with Bob,” Bono said. “I’m sure I was hard to deal with and the annoying gene would have been very present. And he was coping with a lot.
“I subsequently found out that he was coping with other stuff in his own life. I feel I wasn’t there for him in the way I should have been.
"He was very droll, very funny but it got rough, [we] boys would be scrapping. I apologised to my father in a little chapel in France after he passed away. I went up to this little chapel, there was nobody there and I lit a candle and I got on my knees and said I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you, you went through a lot. And I felt free.”
Bono will also write about his family background in his forthcoming memoir Surrender, which runs to almost 600 pages and is due out later this year.
On Desert Island Discs he follows the programme’s familiar format of selecting his favourite pieces of music and talking to the host.
Music includes a choral version of Abide With Me, Ice Cream Sunday by his son Elijah’s band Inhaler and Someone, Somewhere in Summertime by Simple Minds, who he acknowledges influenced U2’s early sound.
Bono’s response to his mother’s death was to “form another family” — U2 was formed by the singer and three of his friends at Mount Temple School in Dublin and Bono asked his future wife, Ali, out on a date, all in the same week in 1976.
In the interim years, he remains “besotted’ with Ali. Despite U2’s status, he says the band have “broken up many times”.
“It’s a good thing to say we might be done but the thing that keeps us going is a sense of unfinished business and we still haven’t gotten to the sound we hear in our heads and if you’re going to serve the song you may as well do it with people who can tell you where to go. We’ve gone through moments where someone has stepped on a toe and I’ve been in a huff but in U2 presently we’re OK.”
He says his activism bringing him into contact with certain figures — including the late right-wing US senator Jessie Helm — was “excruciating” for the other band members, “but they believed in me and they gave me their blessing and they believed it was the right thing to do if we could get certain things across the line”.
He also defended U2’s tax arrangements. When Ireland capped the tax-free portion of the artist’s exemption at €250,000 in 2006, U2 moved their royalties operation offshore to the Netherlands to avoid an Irish tax bill, prompting criticism.
Talking about critics, he said: “I don’t agree with them, and I think at the root of this is the false idea that if you’re tough minded in your activism you have to be soft headed in your business.
"It’s the fiduciary duty of a public or private company to control costs. This is a bit of a gotcha situation for U2; there are a lot of reasons to dislike the band but this is not one of them. We pay a lot of tax and we’re proud to pay tax and so it’s like, ‘Really?’ Why would we be the poster child for this?”
He also addressed the reception of the verse he wrote on Ukraine read aloud by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, in Washington, DC, on St Patrick’s Day.
“That was a bit silly, wasn’t it,” he said. “I write limericks for the Paddy’s Day event. It took 10 minutes. I was trying to be funny and the Speaker of the House, who is an incredible woman, instead of saying it was a limerick it was referred to as a poem and so people were thinking of Seamus Heaney and it was like, ‘What?’
“If you meet the Ukrainian people they have a great sense of humour and they were happy for any way we were reaching out to them. Look, I deserve a slap, every singer in a rock ‘n’ roll band is going to step on someone’s toes, say the wrong thing, screw up, but the poem business was silly.”
Bono also talks about the serious health scare emergency surgery he had in 2016: “It’s a big deal to have your chest cut open and it was a long surgery. I tend to — and I shouldn’t — judge things by their effect on the music and that experience certainly made me more vulnerable to music.”
Desert Island Discs with Bono is on today at 11.15am on BBC Radio 4
‘Surrender: The Autobiography – 40 Songs, One Story’ will be published on November 1