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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Ali Hewson: More than Mrs Bono
Ali Hewson, wife of Bono and anti-nuclear campaigner
She is unknown to most people in the UK but has been making headlines in the Irish Republic for years. Chris Jones of the BBC's News Profiles Unit reports on Ali Hewson, wife of U2 singer, Bono, and her campaign to close the Sellafield nuclear plant.

Ali Hewson wants to make one thing clear at the outset. She may dislike being called "Bono's wife" but: "I really don't have a big problem with my own identity, because I am a very private person."

Ali and Bono
Ali and Paul Hewson - aka Bono - in Bosnia
While Bono's status gives him telephone access to world leaders, his wife has maintained the lowest of profiles, preferring the couple's seaside home south of Dublin to the glare of the paparazzi flashbulbs.

Ali shares the social conscience of her husband, Bono, aka Paul Hewson; they once spent five unpublicised weeks in Ethiopia, working as volunteers on a relief project. But she never looked like rivalling her other half in the spotlight. Yet, this week she was photographed at 10 Downing Street, delivering a giant postcard to the prime minister.

One of more than a million cards calling for the Sellafield plant to be closed, it carried the message: "Tony, look me in the eye and tell me I'm safe."

Shut Sellafield ad
The campaign is gathering pace
Pete Roche, who spearheads Greenpeace's campaign against the plant on the Cumbrian coast, is grateful for Ali Hewson's involvement.

"Anyone who can get to deliver a postcard to Tony Blair in person has got to be a help in raising the profile of the campaign," he says.

Ms Hewson's Number 10 visit coincided with the 16th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which has been blamed for thousands of deaths. As patron of the Irish charity, the Chernobyl Children's Project, she has helped to organise aid convoys to the region stricken by nuclear radiation.

Threat in the water

She faced a difficult dilemma when she spent three weeks in Belarus, the area worst affected by radioactive fall-out, for a television documentary she presented.

Sellafield at sunset
Sellafield: Is it casting a shadow on the future?
The television crew took their own food and water, but when the local people proffered their own produce, they felt unable to refuse. "We just sort of hoped for the best," she says.

"And the point is that the fall-out was carried on the wind, which is exactly what could happen in Ireland if there was an explosion at Sellafield. Apart from that there are emissions every day. So if we're being asked to live with low-level dosages of radiation, why aren't we being told its effects?"

It was having children, she says, that compelled her to act. "I started to wonder how safe it was for them to play on the beach or to swim in the sea or even to eat fish."

Childhood sweethearts

There are four young Hewsons, aged from nearly 13 to 11 months. Their parents went to the same school, Mount Temple secondary in Dublin, where young Paul's first effort to chat up the then Alison Stewart was rebuffed.

Ali Hewson with Bono and U2
Ali and the band
They married in August 1982, but Ali hadn't done with academia. She attained a social sciences degree as a mature student seven years later, in an eventful month that also saw the birth of her first child, Jordan.

When The Joshua Tree made U2 one of the most successful bands in the world, she was given the means and the influence to take part in humanitarian work.

But it didn't solve a problem faced by millions of parents: being there for the children. With Bono often on tour or spending long days at the recording studio, Ali has been effectively a single parent.

And her increasing commitment to the Shut Sellafield Campaign has meant that she, too, has not always been around for the children.

"I've had a few notes under the pillow saying 'I want my mummy back,' but the girls are sanguine and also pretty switched on about environmental issues."

Future in mind

"I would prefer to keep a more private life, but in the end I felt I couldn't turn round to my children in 20 years' time and say that I had had an opportunity to do something about Sellafield but didn't."

Bono and George Bush
Her husband has a hotline to some powerful people
She says her relationship with Bono works because of mutual respect: "When he's garbled and broken I help put him back together and he does the same for me."

Now that the reluctant celebrity wife has entered the public domain, she has inspired tabloid speculation that the Irish Labour Party would like to adopt her as its presidential candidate in 2004.

Warm, approachable, and lacking in ego, Ali Hewson could be a vote-winner. But she says she hasn't been approached and doesn't take the suggestion seriously. "For one thing, I'm not sure I'm qualified, and for another I've got four small kids to bring up first," she says.

"On top of that, my husband says we couldn't possibly move into the president's official mansion and set up home in a smaller house."

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26 Apr 02 | England
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