By Mike Collett-White
LONDON (Reuters) – For someone so often called a saint, BobGeldof has an uncanny ability to irritate and offend.
The Irish rocker has bullied and badgered his way into thehistory books, pulling off the Live Aid rock concerts 20 yearsago and promising to do something even bigger on Saturday with10 Live 8 gigs to raise awareness of African poverty.
The 50-year-old Geldof seems like a walking contradiction.
He was the quintessential anti-establishment figure afterco-founding the Boomtown Rats band in 1975, railing againstauthority and bemoaning the unfairness of it all.
Yet he has been knighted and rubs shoulders with worldleaders, as in a studio show on the MTV channel on Thursdaywhere he extolled British Prime Minister Tony Blair for pushingfor more aid for Africa.
His bedraggled hair, dishevelled suits and penchant forswearing on live television are not the norm for a millionairein the media business.
In interviews he can be offensive to journalists in onesentence and speak with tenderness about his late ex-wife PaulaYates in the next. She died of a drug overdose in 2000, havingalready left Geldof for Australian rock star Michael Hutchence.
Where apologists and critics agree is on Geldof’ssingle-mindedness, without which he could not have become oneof the world’s highest-profile charity organizers.
Musician Peter Gabriel, hosting a Live 8 gig for Africanmusicians after Geldof came under fire for sidelining artistsfrom that continent, called him “Chairman Bob” in a jokingreference to his authoritarian style.
“We asked for Bob’s blessing which he freely gave; that wasin his role as pope.”
The fact that Geldof’s music career was in decline when helaunched the Live Aid charity gig means his motives have oftenbeen questioned.
Long before Live Aid made him a household name, his reasonsfor forming a band were more selfish.
“Most people get into bands for three very simple rock androll reasons: to get laid, to get fame, and to get rich,” hetold a music magazine in 1977.
Explaining those remarks 25 years on, he said they were the”three things that I couldn’t get growing up Catholic, inpoverty, in Ireland.”
But few doubt his passion for fighting poverty, famine anddisease in Africa, a continent that has fascinated him since hesaw a newsreel of the famine in Ethiopia in 1984.
“When I saw the pictures of Ethiopia I decided to dosomething other than just put my hand in my pocket. I sat therefeeling horrified, ashamed and disgusted,” he said.
Later that year he gathered pop stars to record “Do TheyKnow it’s Christmas?” which raised 8 million pounds ($14million) for charity, but it was Live Aid in 1985 that provedthe defining moment in Geldof’s career.
Watched by 1.5 billion people and raising $100 million forAfrica’s starving, the gigs in London and Philadelphia broughttogether the likes of Mick Jagger, David Bowie and The Who inan unprecedented display of altruism.
On Saturday, the idea is even more ambitious. Around 1,000acts in 10 venues, from Tokyo in the east to near Toronto inthe west, will try to put pressure on leaders meeting next weekto do more to fight poverty.
“I can’t wait for the end. I’m so tired,” Geldof told anaudience of young people on MTV. “I tell you something … youwill never see it again. It will be the greatest concert ever.”
STRUCK BY TRAGEDY
Robert Frederick Xenon Geldof was born in 1954 in Ireland.His mother died when he was young and he had to fend forhimself from an early age.
After a stint as a music journalist he became a chart starhimself with The Boomtown Rats before Band Aid and Live Aid.
In 1986 he married Paula Yates, with whom he had threechildren, and Geldof was affected deeply when Yates left himfor INXS star Hutchence.
“I was bereft beyond belief but I understood that she hadto go now because she didn’t love me … and it was like thisgreat joy went out of my life,” he said in a recent interview.
Geldof fought for and won custody of his own daughters andthe child Yates had with Hutchence. The Australian died in ahotel room in mysterious circumstances in 1997.
Three years later, Yates also died.
Geldof lives in London with his partner Jeanne Marine.