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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 June, 2003, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
Bob Geldof: Ragged-trousered pragmatist
By Bob Chaundy
BBC News profiles unit

18 years after Live Aid, Bob Geldof returns to Ethiopia

Bob Geldof has been revisiting Ethiopia, scene of the 1985 famine that spawned his Band Aid idea. The country is once again on the verge of disaster, with 12 million dependent on food aid. Geldof's visit comes ahead of the G8 meeting in France at which he hopes Africa will be on the agenda.

The Irishman has been shooting from the hip again. He has described the current aid effort from the European Union as "pathetic and appalling", provoking the EU to say he was "misinformed and unhelpful".

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Bob Geldof's latest cri de coeur, people listen to him in the way they don't register politicians.

On Live Aid day, when he famously urged viewers in infamously colourful language to "give us your money," they responded by donating millions.

His shambling, dishevelled appearance and his foul mouth were not to everyone's taste, but his passion to get something done endeared him to the public and earned him the moniker Saint Bob.

Geldof in Ethiopia in 2003
Geldof warns of another impending Ethiopian famine

Two decades on, the now grey hair is still untidy, and the bluntness and passionate sincerity remain undimmed.

But the intervening years have transformed the concerned showbiz humanitarian into a seasoned campaigner well versed in development issues.

Access to high places

Geldof and his friend and co-rocker, U2's Bono, have, for several years, been engaged in high-level behind the scenes lobbying to try to change government policies.

They formed a pressure-group called DATA, standing for Debt, Aid and Trade for Africa.

The pair employ two full-time campaigners and draw on the most up-to-date academic research.

Their status ensures that they gain access right up to the White House and 10 Downing Street. After all, Bob Geldof is an honorary knight of the realm.

Born Dublin, 5 October 1954
Formed Boomtown Rats in 1975
3 daughters with Paula Yates
Founded Planet 24 in 1992
Adopted Tiger Lily in 2000

Geldof received a lot of criticism when he recently praised the Bush administration for its fight against hunger and Aids in Africa.

Some aid organisations point to how the religious influence in the Bush administration has tied its Aids campaigns to sexual abstinence. Others have accused Washington of using food aid as a covert subsidy for American farmers.

But no one can now criticise Geldof for being ill-informed as opposed to misinformed.

Successful businessman

As Oxfam spokesperson Brendan Cox told BBC NewsOnline, "Bob is right to praise the dramatic increase in aid for Aids in the US budget. But he knows as well as we do, that there are bigger issues, like the unfair trade rules, for which the US is a major impediment to progress."

Geldof himself has stressed the practicality of his arguments. "We start from US self-interest and argue that keeping the Third World poor only feeds problems of immigration at home."

Bob Geldof with guitar
Music gives Bob Geldof his most satisfaction
That sense of pragmatism has served Bob Geldof well. Armed with a keen sense of moral outrage, and a famously low boredom threshold, it has also helped him become a successful businessman.

When he was angry at the diet of programmes on TV, he set up his own production company, Planet 24, which won the commission for Channel 4's Big Breakfast.

But he made sure it was run by his competent friends Charlie Parsons and Waheed Ali. Geldof pocketed a cool 5 million when it was eventually sold to Carlton.

When he encountered problems booking a family holiday over the internet for his children and his French actress girlfriend Jeanne Marine, he founded online travel agent Deckchair.com.

But he did it in conjunction with James Page, the successful creator of the Eidos software company, responsible for Lara Croft.

When he established Ten Alps Broadcasting, it was in partnership with radio producer Alex Connock. He now owns several TV stations in eastern Europe.

Troubled waters

Ironically, the only part of Bob Geldof from which he says he derives real satisfaction, his music, has recently been his least successful. It is more than 20 years since Rat Trap and I Don't Like Mondays were number one hits for his band the Boomtown Rats.

Like it or not, apart from his work on development issues, it's his private life for which Bob Geldof is best known, in particular, the whole messy end to his 19-year relationship with Paula Yates.

With French actress girlfriend, Jeanne Marine
With French actress girlfriend, Jeanne Marine
After Paula dumped him in favour of INXS frontman, Michael Hutchence, he was granted custody, following a bitter fight, of their three children.

Then, after Hutchence's death following a conversation with Geldof, and the public disintegration and suicide of his former wife, it could all have gone so wrong.

Yet, somehow, Geldof, held it all together. The man they call Bob the Gob maintained a dignified silence throughout.

When, finally, he was allowed to adopt Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily, the daughter of his former wife and Hutchence, he was voted an "honorary Mum" by Prima Baby magazine.

His credibility has emerged intact, and if one is to persuade people of the rights and wrongs of the famine in Africa or anywhere else, credibility is all important.

Sir Bob Geldof discusses the G8 summit and Africa

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