Singer Bob Geldof, KBE, was a founding member of the Irish New Wave/punk group the Boomtown Rats, but their string of hit singles was largely eclipsed by his work as a Nobel Prize-nominated political activist whose most notable contributions were serving as co-founder of the Band Aid charity, which recorded the 1984 single "Do They Know Its Christmas?" to benefit relief efforts in Ethiopia, and organizing the international Live Aid and Live 8 concert events. Geldof's tenure with the scabrous Rats, which scored two U.K. No. 1 hits with "Rat Trap" and the controversial "I Don't Like Mondays," seemed incongruent with his later philanthropic activities, but the same outspoken attitude he wielded in his band were also significant assets to his charity efforts. Geldof corralled some of the biggest stars in U.K. pop and rock to record "Christmas," which became one of the best-selling songs in music history, and later used its influence to bring together dozens of groups, both new and legendary, to perform at the historic Live Aid concert in 1985. His efforts to bring attention to famine relief in Africa resulted in a knighthood and increased awareness for international aid campaigns, which he continued to address throughout the next two decades through the Live 8 concerts in 2005. Geldof also continued his music career during this period, releasing five solo albums between 1986 and 2011. Ultimately, political activism would define Bob Geldof's career and give him a place in the history books as rock's most ambitious and successful philanthropist.
Born Robert Frederick Zenon Geldof on Oct. 5, 1951 in Dún Laoghaire, a seaside town in County Dublin, Ireland, Bob Geldof spent much of his early years in transit. The son of Robert Geldof and his wife, Evelyn, who died of a cerebral hemorrhage in her early forties, Geldof attended Blackrock College in Dublin before taking on odd jobs in a slaughterhouse and cannery, among others. He left Ireland for Vancouver, Canada to write music journalism for the free alternative newspaper Georgia Strait. Upon returning to Ireland in 1975, he became the lead singer for the Boomtown Rats, a New Wave band that affiliated itself with the burgeoning punk movement after moving to London in 1976. The band enjoyed considerable success on the U.K. pop charts, netting nine Top 40 singles between 1977 and 1980, including the No. 1 hits "Rat Trap" (1978) and "I Don't Like Mondays" (1979). The former song was notable for being the first rock track by an Irish band to top the charts in the U.K., while the latter became the Rats' only song to reach the Billboard Hot 100, despite adverse reaction from American radio stations, which refused to play the song due to the fact that its title was taken from a 1979 statement made by teenager Brenda Ana Spencer about why she killed two adults and wounded eight children in a schoolyard shooting spree in California. Though Geldof had garnered a reputation in the press as a prickly public figure who occasionally voiced unpopular opinions - comments about the Clash earned him the lifelong enmity of NME, while disparaging statements about the quality of life in Ireland prevented the Rats from playing in their native country - he also showed a compassionate side in regard to international causes, beginning in 1981 with a performance at the Secret Policeman's Other Ball concert, which benefited Amnesty International.
After giving a compelling performance as the alienated pop star protagonist of Alan Parker's "Pink Floyd - The Wall" (1982), Geldof organized the U.K.'s biggest pop stars to record the single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" (1984). He had been inspired to pen the song with Ultravox guitarist Midge Ure after watching a BBC report on the devastating famine in Ethiopia, and enlisted the likes of U2's Bono, Sting, Phil Collins, Boy George and members of Duran Duran, among many others, to contribute vocals to the song. It soon became the biggest-selling single in U.K. music history, with a million copies purchased in its first week of release alone and an eventual 11.8 million copies sold by the end of the decade while raising some eight million pounds for famine relief. Geldof soon learned that the funds raised by "Christmas" would have a difficult time actually reaching the Ethiopian people, due to the complex nature of international loans made to Africa, which required that for every pound donated in aid, a larger amount would have to be repaid to donor countries. He responded by launching Live Aid, a massive, 16-hour music event featuring dozens of new and legendary performers at simultaneous concerts in Philadelphia and London, including Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, a reunited Led Zeppelin, and a career-defining performance by Queen which was cited as one of the greatest live sets in rock history. Live Aid would raise £150 million for famine relief and brought Geldof an honorary knighthood as Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II in 1986. That same year, he published his autobiography, Is That It?, which became a bestseller in the United Kingdom, and the Boomtown Rats came to a close as well - due in large part to his philanthropic duties taking up his time and energy.
Geldof next launched a fitfully successful solo career with Deep in the Heart of Nowhere (1986), which only reached No. 79 in the U.K. and No. 130 in America. Its follow-up, The Vegetarians of Love (1990), performed significantly better, peaking at No. 21 on the U.K. charts, though it failed to achieve any chart placement in the United States. His final solo effort for nearly a decade was 1993's The Happy Club, which saw found no footholds on the charts on either sides of the Atlantic. Geldof then busied himself with a number of ventures, including the television production company Planet 24, which he founded with producer Tony Boland in 1992. Among the many programs produced by the company was "Expedition Robinson" (SVT/TV3/TV4, 1997- ), a reality-competition series produced in Sweden that became the basis for "Survivor" (CBS, 2000- ), as well as "The Word" (Channel 4, 1990-1995), a freewheeling variety-cum-news-magazine series, and a morning entertainment program called "The Big Breakfast" (Channel 4, 1992-2002), which featured Geldof's wife, TV presenter Paula Yates, in deliberately titillating interviews with celebrities. She had met Geldof during the early years of the Boomtown Rats, and gave birth to a daughter, Fifi Trixibelle, in 1983. After marrying in 1986, the couple had two more children, Peaches Geldof (a model, fashion journalist and tabloid fixture who died in April 2014 at the age of 25) and Pixie Geldof, in 1989 and 1990, respectively, but by then, Yates had begun a lengthy affair with INXS frontman Michael Hutchence.
The relationship ended her marriage to Geldof in 1995, after which she gave birth to a daughter, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily Hutchence, in 1996. The following year, Hutchence committed suicide in a hotel room in Sydney, Australia, which Yates alleged was due in part to threatening statements by Geldof to take his children away from the troubled couple. In a sequence of tragic, tabloid-splashed events, Yates subsequently attempted suicide in 1998, prompting Geldof to take custody of their three children. The following year, he sold Planet 24 to Carlton TV and launched a new company, Ten Alps, which produced television content for the BBC and other U.K. networks. Geldof then participated in NetAid, which linked three major stadium concerts in London, New Jersey and Geneva via the Internet, radio and television, though the event was not as successful as Live Aid in generating relief funds for anti-poverty projects. Finally succeeding in her quest to end it all, Yates' death from a drug overdose in 2000 spurred Geldof to enter into a legal battle with Hutchence's family over custody of her daughter, Tiger Lily. Although she was not his blood daughter, he won the case, becoming her legal guardian in 2000, as well as an outspoken supporter of the fathers' rights movement.
Geldof then briefly revived his musical career with a fourth solo album, Sex, Age & Death (2001) before returning to his philanthropic duties with the Commission for Africa, a 2004 initiative launched by the British government to develop new ways of aiding the development of African nations. Geldof's response was the Live 8 project, which organized major free concerts in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Philadelphia, Ontario, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Moscow, Cornwall and Edinburgh in July 2005. The concerts, which featured appearances by Paul McCartney, a reunited Pink Floyd, Madonna and countless others, were scheduled shortly before the G8 economic summit in order to bring attention to African issues for the assembled leaders. Media response to the event was sharply divided, with many outlets criticizing Geldof for using the legacy of Live Aid to push the agendas of British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, as well for the concerts' lack of African artists. Skepticism about the G8 leaders' subsequent promise to devote $50 billion in aid to Africa was underscored by a 2006 report showing that their pledge had largely gone unfulfilled.
Despite these issues, Geldof received a slew of honors for his efforts, including the 2005 Man of Peace Award from the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates and two nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 and 2008. Between Nobel nominations, he officially adopted Tiger Lily Hutchence in 2007 and worked closely with Bono's ONE Campaign, which worked to increase government funding for international aid programs. In 2011, Geldof released his fifth solo album, How to Compose Popular Songs that Will Sell, which reached No. 89 on the U.K. albums chart, his highest placement there since Vegetarians of Love in 1990. That same year, he also launched a new entertainment company, Pretend, while also reuniting with several members of his former group, the Boomtown Rats, at a concert in London. Two years later, Geldof officially announced that the group had reformed for a world tour.
By Paul Gaita