Monday 23 September 2019

Bob Geldof: The wonderful woman who saved my life

John Costello on an extraordinary love affair

Living through love: Legendary singer Bob Geldof and his partner, Jeanne Marine
Living through love: Legendary singer Bob Geldof and his partner, Jeanne Marine

"Jeanne insisted on finding something loveable in this most unloveable of men. This creature at his most ugly, physically and spiritually. I was detestable."



The man describing himself with retrospective self-loathing this week is Bob Geldof; the woman is his beautiful partner, the French actress Jeanne Marine.

She is the inspiration for his new album, ironically titled How To Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell. For a man whose life has so often been played out on the front pages and before TV cameras, the story of their love has been cloaked in Gallic discretion.

Turn back the clock to November 1994. Geldof was distraught. Tabloid hacks and paparazzi circled like vultures outside his London home, while inside his world crumbled.

Paula Yates had just walked out on him for superstar rocker Michael Hutchinson, leaving 'Boomtown Bob' devastated.

Inconsolable at the loss of his wife and three daughters, he fled London and the glare of the media. But he was about to meet his saviour.

"I took the Eurostar to Paris, to get away from all the crap at home," he says. "At a dinner that night there was a beautiful girl opposite me, but by this point I hated women.

"I didn't want to be around them, didn't trust them. I looked at this girl and thought, 'Yeah, she's cute', but no more than that."

Marine says she was instantly attracted to Geldof.

"I liked his elegance and his Irishness," she told Hello magazine about their first encounter.

"Bob is exactly the kind of man I've always been waiting for. He's compassionate, charming, intelligent and, on top of that, good-looking. He's the most handsome man in the world and I adore him."

To show his appreciation for being rescued from the darkness of depression and having his "non-existent heart" revived, Geldof has now dedicated his entire new album How To Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell to the love of his life.

Marine says Geldof was "very sad and depressed" about his break-up with Yates when they met.

"When we first got together he'd say, 'This isn't what I'm really like. I want Bob back'," she recalls.

However, while there was instant attraction between the couple, conversation proved a little tricky at first.

"She didn't speak English and I didn't speak French," says Geldof.

"But silence was what was required anyway. She hadn't a clue who I was and didn't care. She found me attractive, as opposed to 'Live Aid' Bob or 'The Wall' Bob or 'Boomtown' Bob or whatever the hell. I don't know how -- because I was just numb."

Despite Geldof's fame, little was known about the woman who began the slow process of healing the gaping wound that had been slashed into his heart.

Jeanne had already starred in several French films, was a respected stage actress and played the beautiful handmaiden to the Queen of France in the Mel Gibson blockbuster Braveheart, but remained practically unknown outside of France.

Born straight into the heart of the French bourgeoisie, her close-knit family live in the centre of Paris on the smart Right Bank arrondissement, which she and Geldof frequently visit.

She has two brothers, one a businessman, the other a highly respected athletics coach.

While Geldof is caricatured as scruffy and unkempt -- Yates famously quoted him as saying "I don't take baths" -- Marine is the epitome of French elegance with shimmering skin, huge sea-like, blue-green eyes and a broad infectious smile.

She is also very comfortable in her own skin and more than a match for the mouthy Dubliner. When asked by a tacky tabloid reporter if she would ever consider plastic surgery, she simply responded: "No, I wouldn't have plastic surgery. Why? We have more confident body language in France."

However, Marine would quickly give up France and move to London to be with Geldof.

"Not being able to speak English at all was a very good protection for me. It was very hard to communicate with him at first. It was a real challenge. It was very difficult to begin with.

"I had to find a new way of life, to make new friends, learn a new language, a new culture, a new city -- but I was in love and that makes it easier!"

Her learning curve was fast as it was steep. Divorce proceedings turned nasty when Yates tried to paint Marine as a key player in the drama surrounding her split from Geldof.

In the High Court petition filed by Yates, Marine was the unnamed woman with whom Geldof was alleged to have committed adultery. The petition was lodged shortly after Yates, who was pregnant with Hutchinson's child Tiger Lily, saw photographs of the lovers kissing and cuddling in Rome.

While the drama surrounding Geldof Yates and Hutchinson frequently provided tabloid fodder, Marine remained perfectly discreet, managing the surrounding turmoil of life with the man affectionately known as Saint Bob with Gallic ease for five years. But then their world imploded.

Yates's naked body was found dead beside powdered heroin and a rolled up £5 note containing traces of cocaine. It was the morning of daughter Pixie's 10th birthday.

Geldof was thrown into a downward spiral of despair. Friends close to the couple spoke of his black moods triggered by the guilt he felt over his ex-wife's tragic death at the age of 41.

He had already won custody of Pixie, Peaches and Fifi Trixiebelle after the bitter divorce battle, and quickly adopted Tiger Lily.

Marine was now the mother figure and struggled to care for Geldof and his four grief-stricken daughters. Yates's death cast a long shadow over their relationship and rumours were rife the couple were on the verge of a break-up.

Despite describing himself as "detestable" and being at his "most ugly, physically and spiritually", his lover stayed steadfast by his side and slowly helped him rebuild.

"Jeanne insisted on finding something loveable in this most unlovable of men," Geldof says.

"I was detestable. But the shriven soul, once there is an insistence on love, gradually stitches itself back together, and in that stitching a human being gets reconstructed -- in this case, me. That's how How To Compose came into being."

Now Geldof, known for his f-ing and blinding and being a grumpy old man, is singing to the world about the redemptive and inspiring powers of love.

"There's a clear understanding on the new record, finally, that, 'I'm in love with you tonight,' Geldof says. "It's been the best decade, because demons have been long laid to rest."

His fans hope they rest in peace.

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