Boomtown Rat Bob Geldof Takes a Well-Deserved Bow for Staging the Greatest Show on Earth

updated 08/05/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/05/1985 01:00AM

He has probably done more to save the lives of famine-stricken people than anyone in history.
Member of Parliament Tom Torney

His eating habits are awful; he'll end up with more breakfast on his face than in his mouth.
Boomtown Rat Simon Crowe

Newspapers call him saint, some members of Parliament suggest calling him Sir, one Nobel Peace Prize nominator wants to call him with an invite to Oslo, and his friends call him slob. Not bad for an enigmatic, fading 32-year-old rocker who, until now, has been better known for his ego than any sort of heavenly credentials.

All that changed for Bob Geldof last October when a TV news film from Ethiopia threw him into a fund-raising frenzy for African famine victims. Step one: the Band Aid single, Do They Know It's Christmas?, which Geldof co-wrote and turned into an international hit. The tune raised $11 million in Africa-bound royalties and prompted pop stars in more than 20 countries to cut their own songs for the cause. Step two was Live Aid, the Geldof-inspired concerts in Philadelphia and London that have thus far brought in revenues of $55 million.

Geldof now scoffs at talk of sainthood ("It's silly. I can't live up to that") and insists he'd soon like to forsake philanthropy for the Boomtown Rats, the band he's fronted since 1975. The son of a Dublin textile merchant, Geldof had been something of a rebel and "a bit of a thick" in parochial school, according to bandmate Pete Briquette; he once nearly got the boot for promoting the writings of Chairman Mao. Shunning college, Geldof worked as a busker, meat packer, front door peephole salesman and—appropriately—bread deliveryman before his enlistment as the Rats' manager.

Quickly promoted to singer-songwriter, he helped guide the Rats through four hit albums before their popularity began to pale. Some have blamed Geldof's feisty, sense-be-damned style for the slide. At one San Diego showcase concert attended by radio programmers, he put a spotlight on the execs and prompted the crowd to boo. Soon after, the Rats disappeared from local airwaves.

The abrasiveness still surfaces, along with frequent schoolboy expletives, but Geldof can also be as convincing as a Bible Belt evangelist. He not only persuaded Prince Charles and Princess Di to attend Live Aid but helped engineer some of the year's most startling rock reunions. Among them: The Who, whose members had forsworn performing together. "The idea was really abhorrent," says bassist John Entwistle, "but Bob told me that I would save lives if we did it."

For Geldof life is returning to normal, with more time for girlfriend Paula Yates, their daughter, Fifi Trixibelle, 2, and an upcoming U.S. tour. "Live Aid is an aberration in my life," he says. "What I enjoy doing is writing songs." Nevertheless a few days after Live Aid, he shed his customary work shirt and jeans for dinner at the Palace with the Royals. "They came to my party, so I went to theirs," he said later. Briquette figured Geldof might be mellowing because "he put on a suit and washed his hair" for the occasion. "No," deadpans Crowe. "He didn't wash his hair."

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