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Looking Out For Every One

7 May, 2010 By: Thomas Haire Response


Enraged by this, Geldof traveled on to California for the USA for Africa recording. “Quincy asked me to speak to everyone before they started, so I said to the guys, ‘Look, I may call upon you in the near future,’” he says. “I talked to everyone about what I’d seen. Then, I went back to the trustees to tell them we need to break this cartel, get our own fleet of trucks and smaller tankers to ship the grain.”

Knowing a bigger effort would be necessary, Geldof turned his sights on organizing a concert to benefit the struggling African nations. On July 13, 1985, the Live Aid concert took place in London and Philadelphia, featuring the top musical acts in the world broadcast on MTV, the BBC and other outlets. The show brought the Trust’s total funds to more than $150 million.

“We had 1.6 billion viewers around the world,” Geldof says of the event, which truly was pulled off by sheer will. “Essentially, it was putting Band Aid and USA for Africa together on stage in two cities on the same day. It was a concert to address the planet — to get people to understand that allowing 30 million to die would be a body blow to the entire world.”

As hard as it may be to remember, a worldwide television broadcast of nearly simultaneous concerts was not the most technologically simple concept in 1985. So Geldof and his team got in touch with the crew that had made possible the worldwide telecasts of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles to create the systems necessary for the broadcast. “At the same time, I’m calling the acts, asking them to come on board without contracts, because we have to announce this event,” Geldof adds. “We were basically looking for them to donate their time, their artistry, anything they could.”

One call went to Bruce Springsteen. “Bruce was gigging at Wembley Stadium in London, one of our locations,” Geldof says of the rock star who was at his peak of popularity following his smash 1984 album “Born In The U.S.A.” “I went to see him, and though he was not going to be able to play the show because of his continuing tour, he said to me, ‘I’ll leave my stage behind in Wembley if you need it. Use my stage.’”

The location for the American show was also up in the air as the date approached. “I wanted Shea Stadium in New York because of the historical tie to the famous Beatles shows there, so I went to see Mayor Ed Koch,” Geldof says. “But the stadium wasn’t available.”

But Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode had some serious problems on his hands after a May 1985 police bombing left the city filled with racial tension. “He said, ‘We’re the City of Brotherly Love, I’ll let you use JFK Stadium for free,” Geldof says. “It was perfect timing for him and perfect symbolism for us — the Liberty Bell, the history of freedom.”

Working with famous concert promoters Bill Graham in the U.S. and Harvey Goldsmith in the U.K., “We decided to just announce it,” Geldof says. “We announced acts with no contracts, and come July 13, everyone showed up.”

The shows went off with nary a hitch, and not only were the tens of thousands on hand at Wembley and JFK that day enraptured, but more than a billion TV viewers from around the world were entranced. “I’m still fascinated at the romance of the day, the sight of the two crowds waving back and forth on the video screens,” Geldof says. “No one went out that day, everyone stayed in to watch, but it became so exciting, people forgot it was a fundraising thing.”

That’s when Geldof stepped to the fore in one of the great moments in fundraising and marketing history. “People are dying now. Give us the money now! Give me the money now,” he said into a camera, banging on a table on worldwide television.

“A few minutes later, David Bowie introduced a short film about the famine,” Geldof says of a video that was set to the Cars’ hit ballad “Drive.”

“Within minutes, the phone systems around the world started collapsing,” Geldof adds. “Bowie was the right man to change the atmosphere from a triumphal day with very little messaging. Nobody was making speeches; it was a celebration of being human, being young, a celebration of possibility. Then, a giant like Bowie says, ‘I’d like to show you this, and pay attention.’ Well, people never stopped paying attention after that.”

‘Marketing the Famine’

“The most important thing we’ve done over the years, aside from keeping as many people alive as possible, is — essentially — marketing the famine,” Geldof says. “Certainly, we had fleets of our own ships and 630 Mack trucks operating in Africa at one time, delivering grain across the desert. But, in the end, I’m good at articulating the problem in the media.”

He continues, “I’ve spent 35 years marketing my own ideas — through a rock band that sings songs. In my first interview in the U.K., during the punk period in 1975, I said I was interested in being famous because it gives you platform to talk about things that bothered you. Fame is just a currency, but it depends on how wisely you spend it.”

Geldof says that besides the direct relief the Band Aid and Live Aid projects provided to Africa, his group’s marketing of the issue helped up the income for other charities fighting the same issues. “Save the Children, UNICEF, OXFAM — they all doubled their income in those two years,” he contends.

But, as Geldof says, this issue was not something like the recent earthquake in Haiti, a singular event requiring rapid and immediate response. While response needed to be rapid in Africa, he contends, “Poverty and famine are long-haul issues.”

Having created a huge constituency of involved donors around the world, Geldof saw the opportunity to take this from a simple charitable effort to something bigger and more clearly political.

“Africa is only eight miles from Europe, the most affluent continent. This is a grotesque moral and economic anomaly,” Geldof says. “In the course of time, I co-founded the ONE Campaign with Bono — 70 lobbyists in Washington, D.C., 26 in the U.K., and many more around the world. We have millions of members of the campaign around the world. And it all started with rock-and-roll as the great device for marketing this issue. Kids everywhere keep band posters and logos in their rooms. That’s the definition of marketing. Before Band Aid, African famine was nowhere on the G7 agenda. Now, it’s a crucial part of every G8 conference.”

While his initial efforts on behalf of Africa resulted in gaining knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 1986, those efforts continue to this day with the Band Aid Charitable Trust, the ONE Campaign, the Africa Progress Panel, a BBC1 television series, “Geldof in Africa,” and a 2008 trip to Africa with then U.S. President George W. Bush.

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