Dear Sir Bob
Saturday 22nd November 2014
Like many teenagers in the ’80s BERNADETTE HORTON idolised Bob Geldof, but a single utterance last week changed all that. Here she explains why
Of course back in 1984-5 you were just plain Bob Geldof. You and your band The Boomtown Rats were adorned across many teenagers’ walls, myself included.
In a time of Thatcher’s tyranny, you angrily fronted a band of young skinny men with something to say and a whole heap of attitude.
Your marriage to Paula Yates and exotically named eldest daughter Fifi Trixiebelle cemented your reputation as a modern punk couple living the rock’n’roll lifestyle we all seemed to find so glamourous and exciting.
As a 17-18-year-old, you were one of my idols, a rebel against society, but a passionate family man with always something to say. You saw the hunger, the poverty, the starving people in Africa and you wanted to change the world.
Through your passion, through your unshakable self-belief that music could indeed change the African people’s lives, we teenagers and also parents and grandparents stood alongside you Bob, bought Do They Know It’s Christmas? in record numbers and clamoured to get tickets for the unbelievable Band Aid concert on July 13 1985 at Wembley.
You believed and we believed that if we raised such a vast amount of money that had never been seen before we could cure African hunger in one swoop.
The images of starving children on the news and in every programme charting the Band Aid phenomenon were never apologised for. It was necessary.
When you coined the phrase “Give us your fucking money” we loved you more and contributed more. While we were at it, could we cure world hunger in your name? Such was the sheer passion of the cause. And you were our rebel leader Bob. You made it all happen.
No-one said NO to you. The pop royalty of the day turned out at your request to perform in a concert in London and a simultaneous concert in Philadelphia. Seeing Phil Collins perform on stage at Wembley then take Concorde and at supersonic speed to the US and perform in Philadelphia on the same day was unforgettable, trailblazing and downright unheard of.
Bob Geldof had thought the unthinkable and made it happen. We had anointed you Sir Bob, way before you recieved your knighthood.
As for the record Do They know It’s Christmas? back in the day not many people analysed the lyrics or questioned the way in which money was being raised.
Bono rasping out “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you” may have been a line he didn’t like singing, but to us it was simply Bono actually putting our thoughts into song. With the harrowing TV footage, we really did thank God it wasn’t us.
As for the image of the benevolent West deciding what was in Africa’s best interests, I never heard anyone question that matter. Again it was a case of those who have, giving to those who were starving of hunger.
Put that in context against a Thatcher government backdrop and we were just happy that we were helping to alleviate the incredible suffering in Africa.
Our government was responsible for the start of the “I’m alright Jack” society, but we were the rebels with a social conscience, bucking what was going on in our communities, giving hope to Africa and perhaps even thinking we were giving hope to ourselves too.
Geldof and the pop stars involved were giving us a feel-good-about-yourself factor — “Hey we may be skint, struggling or one of the millions of unemployed, but hell there are people starving out there we must help.”
Fast-forward to the recent events. Sir Bob got together another batch of 2014 pop singers to appeal to this generation of kids.
He had brought Band Aid together for a second version in 2004 which was successful at raising funds for famine relief.
It was again a time of following Sir Bob and euphoria prevailing — we were helping out again. But for this third campaign — a new version of Do They Know It’s Christmas? with wording changed to raise money for the new cause, fighting the deadly Ebola disease — questions have been raised, reasons analysed and Sir Bob’s halo has started to slip.
It’s a very different Britain to 1984-5. In some ways it’s much worse. Thatcher drove much of the working class into poverty, but there were not widespread cases of starvation and dying due to benefit sanctions as there are now. Foodbank was a term we had never heard of and certainly branches of the Trussell Trust were not seen in thousands of our towns and cities as there are now.
So perhaps although this new record is to raise money for Ebola rather than starvation in Africa, many are questioning why money cannot be raised to ease our own plight in Britain.
Alongside this we live in a very different world than we did in 1984. We are asking more questions about charitable donations. Who is benefiting? Where is the money going exactly? What are the admin costs? How much money is going to the people actually suffering? Can’t we help Africa help itself in a different way? Do the white Western people feel smug about helping black Africans?
We have seen millions of pounds spent on famine relief in Africa, but no structural change in making sure mass starvation does not occur again.
Money has gone missing on the African continent to corrupt government officials, thus prolonging their own countries’ suffering. Feeding the starving simply is not enough. Global changes were needed to make sure the “benevolent West” doesn’t have to revisit these scenes every few years, but that structural change has not happened.
Many countries in Africa are still as poor as they were in 1984-5. Now Ebola which is killing people in west Africa is being used emotively, as it could soon be on the doorstep of the West in vast numbers.
Fling enough money at it and we will make sure the US and Britain do not have to suffer seems to be the motive what behind this charitable effort.
The record is in its third run-out, which is also a bit desperate — the thing has been done and is frankly looking as tired and pained as Sir Bob himself. Adele didn’t respond to Geldof as she is raising a family — even my kids could not name everyone on the new video of the song.
At first I felt admiration for Sir Bob. Over the years he has lost his ex-wife Paula and his own daughter Peaches to drugs and has had unimaginable personal loss in his life, while stepping in to bring up Paula and Michael Hutchence’s daughter Tiger Lily.
But in one expletive this week he literally threw off his saintly halo and dashed it to the ground for anyone of socialist, humanitarian leanings and threw the shards of glass straight through our hearts.
While being interviewed about the re-release of the song for Band Aid 30 he was asked would it simply have been better if the pop stars in the room all paid their taxes?
“Bollocks” said Sir Bob. When asked again he repeated it — “Bollocks!”
Probably he was basking in the notion that by being taken off air and the interview halted, he would be plastered all over the evening news bulletins, thus raising awareness and more money for the record.
Sir Bob probably had no idea of the change of heart experienced by many people aged 45-plus who had been around in ’84-85 when he could do no wrong.
Oh, Bob. What an awful reply. It was such an opportunity to have a go at the big corporations — Vodafone, Amazon etc — you could even have side-stepped pop stars if you needed not to cause offence to your profession. You could have said something along the lines of: “Lets get the big corporations like Vodafone and Amazon paying their dues in taxes, the multimillionaires paying mansion tax, the bankers being held to account and paying fines for the recession they led us into and, f***ing hell, we would have the money to fight Ebola within 24 hours!”
Instead, while indeed you got the kids to download the record in droves, just as I bought it on vinyl back in 1984 without question, the scales dropped from my eyes and sadly tarnished your image for me and other Band Aid originals for ever.
Why should honest, decent, struggling working-class people pick up the tab to fight Ebola, Sir Bob, when we are the ones struggling like hell to make ends meet in a country where corporations pay next to nothing in tax, pop stars live abroad with their money tucked safely away and a government turns a cold stone heart to its own people?
I have sadly waved goodbye to Bob Geldof — hero, rebel leader, humanitarian, doting dad.
Sir Bob Geldof is part of the Establishment, part of the very force striking daily terror into my working-class world.
All I can say is: “Tell your compatriots to pay their f***ing taxes Bob and give us the f***ing money to find a cure for Ebola. It can’t be down to ordinary people to ‘dig deep’ into empty pockets again. Let this cause be funded by those who have, because the majority of us working-class people simply have not.”
Lily Allen: Band Aid is smug and I’d rather donate actual money. Singer who turned down part on Bob Geldof’s charity single is latest to criticise track aimed at raising money to fight Ebola: here.
Ken Olende argues that Africa doesn’t need Bob Geldof’s charity, or anyone else’s – but solidarity in the struggle against the system of poverty that keeps them down: here.
To Bob Geldof, it’s the role of the West to ‘develop’ the Third World, regardless of whether the people there asked for it or not, writes Ruairi Creaney: here.