HomeLifestyleBob Geldof on why the time is right for a new Boomtown Rats album
Bob Geldof on why the time is right for a new Boomtown Rats album
I’m still haunted by Peaches’ tragic death, says her father Bob Geldof as he opens up on the ‘black hole abyss of loss’ that nearly swallowed him and the love that saved him
Bob Geldof is close to tears. He is speaking about his daughter Peaches, who died from a drug overdose in 2014, aged 25, and has become overwhelmed by emotion. ‘She was lovely,’ Geldof says, before taking a moment to compose himself.
‘But she was always a frantic child as a little baby. She couldn’t sleep. And that continued all through her infancy.
‘She did weird little things as a kid, she had these cute habits. She’d go around collecting twigs. And she sucked a dummy until she was ten or 11. She’d go around truffling on her dummy and topping up her twig collection.
Silver-haired and reed-slim at 68 (he’s been trying the 5:2 diet to get in shape before going on tour), Bob Geldof still exudes a youthful energy
‘She was such a clever, sweet, eccentric girl,’ her father says. ‘There was always that franticness, that constant panic in the eyes. You know the great Leonard Cohen song, Famous Blue Raincoat? “Thanks for the trouble you took from her eyes, I thought it was there for good, so I never tried.”
‘Well, I did try. Of course, I did,’ he says sadly.
A happier thought occurs to him. ‘She had her own language, a dog language, do you remember?’
I remember it well. I have known Geldof for almost four decades and experienced the best of times and the worst of times with him. And as a child Peaches would regularly greet you with a series of affectionate growls.
The Boomtown Rats – Simon Crowe, Pete Briquette, Garry Roberts and Bob Geldof – today
Geldof with wife Jeanne Marine in 2017. ‘In my private moments I actually just put my hands together and thank God for Jeanne’
But I want to ask Geldof a difficult question. He reconvened his band, The Boomtown Rats, at the Isle of Wight festival in the summer of 2013, for a triumphant show. We spent the day together talking unguardedly, as ever, but he didn’t voice any concerns about Peaches. Had her problem become too big a worry for him by then – was he aware that she was in trouble?
‘If you’re talking about drugs trouble, I knew she was doing drugs,’ he replies honestly. ‘I wasn’t specifically aware. I knew that she’d always dabbled and that the panic was always there.
‘By 2013 we’d been through it. The family had gone to Utah to a rehab place there. She was doing pretty well and we all flew out, because you have to.
‘Then she ran away from there. I tried to stop her at the door but there’s nothing you can do.’ His voice wavers. ‘She was free to leave.’
He looks up from the table and stares into the middle distance. Does he ever dream about her?
‘No,’ he squints. ‘I can’t remember any dreams at least. But I was at my friend’s son’s funeral last week. Same deal,’ he sighs, implying a drug-related death. ‘I saw the mum and dad, my friends. I don’t see how they got through it really.
‘The dad said, “Well, time will heal.” And I said, “No, don’t rely on that. Time doesn’t heal, it accommodates.”’
Geldof had arrived at the Fulham photographic studio in fine form. Silver-haired and reed-slim at 68 (he’s been trying the 5:2 diet to get in shape before going on tour), he still exudes a youthful energy.
In the Chinese Year of the Rat, Geldof has decided to reboot his band in grand style. There is a new album, Citizens Of Boomtown, their finest since 1978’s classic A Tonic For The Troops, an excellent documentary and a book of Geldof’s collected lyrics, Tales Of Boomtown Glory, which serves as a reminder of his rare talent as a writer.
He hits the ground running, scandalous, unprintable stories pouring out of him. Within minutes we learn how UN Secretary-General, the late Kofi Annan, ‘had the worst sense of rhythm you’ve ever heard’ and that Prince Charles possesses ‘a very broad mind, contrary to what people think’.
Geldof tells a story of how he, U2’s Bono and Michael Jackson’s producer Quincy Jones visit Pope John Paul II – ‘JP2’ – in Rome. It’s just one of many stories Geldof recounts of his life in the ‘ludicrous showbiz circus’
Geldof opens a matey email from Bruce Springsteen about the time the E Street Band played a small New York club in 1973 with support from no less than Bob Marley and the Wailers, of whom Geldof is a big fan.
The Boss thoughtfully attached an image of the show’s flyer, with a wry note: ‘We still couldn’t sell the place out.’
The mood is very upbeat, but then the atmosphere changes. Geldof sits at a bare table, his hands pressed flat against its surface, his head bowed, as if assuming an emotional brace position.
He starts to talk about loss, how it often affects him ‘in the dim gloom of late afternoon’ or when driving from his flat in London down to Davington Priory, his second home, in Kent.
‘It surges forward, this involuntary subconscious flood of emotion inhabits you, utterly,’ he explains. ‘I’ll be at the traffic lights and I start to weep and I think, “You’re weeping.”
‘And I say, “Let it go. Let it happen.” Then I begin to sob, racked sobs. I weep then I sob. Then I wise up and look around to check that nobody’s taking pictures or filming.
‘But I just look down and I let it come. I just let it happen. Then I’m empty.’ He shrugs. ‘So, that’s always present.’
There is an unrecorded lyric in Geldof’s anthology entitled The Women In My Life, which he quotes from memory.
‘Mothers, daughters, wives, ex-wives, lovers, sisters, friends and others, in almost equal measure, give me pain and pleasure,’ he pauses. ‘The women in my life have almost broken me.’
Geldof’s mother Evelyn ‘bailed’ when he was seven, dying of a cerebral haemorrhage aged 41. His first wife, the TV presenter Paula Yates left Geldof for INXS singer Michael Hutchence in the mid-Nineties. It was a tragic affair. By 2000 both were dead, him by suicide, her by an accidental heroin overdose.
A grief-stricken Geldof addressed ‘this maelstrom of horror’ on his harrowing 2001 solo album Sex, Age & Death, a record so dark and distraught he can no longer listen to it.
‘I don’t and I can’t,’ he confesses. ‘That sounds very dramatic, I know, but I’m so lucky that I got to write those songs because that was me trying to work out the borderless grief. The black hole abyss of loss.’
Geldof with Peaches in 2003. On his sudden moments of grief for Peaches, Geldof says: ‘It surges forward, this involuntary subconscious flood of emotion inhabits you, utterly,’ he explains. ‘I’ll be at the traffic lights and I start to weep and I think, “You’re weeping.”’
He raised Tiger Lily, the orphaned child of Yates and Hutchence, as his own with his three other girls, Fifi, 36, Peaches and Pixie, 29. Now, 23, Tiger watched the recent film about her father, Mystify: Michael Hutchence, just once, ‘loved it’, but said that she wouldn’t be watching it again. Geldof hasn’t seen it, and presumably has no intention of doing so. ‘No,’ he says flatly. ‘I haven’t.’
Throughout ‘the whole bloody Shakespearian tragedy’, Geldof’s salvation was Jeanne Marine, 54, the French actress he met in 1994 and married in 2015.
‘She loves me to bits, and me her, and that makes me so happy,’ he smiles slowly. ‘In my private moments I actually just put my hands together and thank God for Jeanne.
‘I wake beside her and breathe her beauty in and the day is worth getting up for.
‘And she’s exceptionally beautiful, which makes it all the more remarkable that she’s with this odd-looking geezer with a droopy face and not the most winning personality on the planet, who’s crippled by self-doubt and requires bombast to get through that.’
It’s true that Geldof’s powerful, some would argue overbearing, personality can rub people up the wrong way. In Billy McGrath’s new documentary, Boomtown, we witness an irate punter at an early Boomtown Rats gig in London punching Geldof squarely in the face.
Sting, a talking head in the film, can barely contain his mirth.
Ask Geldof if the world really needs another Boomtown Rats album after a 36-year hiatus, and the snotty young punk of yore soon re-surfaces. ‘I don’t give a s***,’ he sniffs. ‘It’s what we do, we write songs, we make albums, and the time was right to do it.’
Princess Diana greets Geldof at the Live Aid concert at Wembley. ‘She certainly was flirty with all the pop people. She always did the flirty eyes thing’
Of course, I point out, the angry young Boomtown Rats are all pensioners now.
‘And the immediate benefit of that is the savings you make on National Rail going to gigs,’ he parries. ‘“Remember to bring your cards, lads!” Travel cost is slashed.’
Geldof takes a ribbing well. Enquire if, on his forthcoming UK tour, he will be treating audiences to his uniquely ‘expressive’ form of dance and the frontman bursts out laughing.
‘It’s not balletic, I’ll give you that,’ he concedes. ‘It’s just this manic movement. I’m not even aware of what I’m doing.’
Perhaps he can expect a call from Strictly Come Dancing sometime soon. ‘I’d be very good,’ he deadpans.
For all his posturing, Geldof remains a man riddled with insecurities. He suffers from one of the worst cases of Imposter Syndrome – a fear of being found out – imaginable.
‘In every single thing I do,’ he agrees. ‘I know I’m nowhere near the top of pop’s Mount Olympus. I understand perfectly that I’m just about past the foothills.’
He acknowledges his ‘couple of mega-hits’, claims to be ‘an OK-ish lyricist’ but accepts that he is ‘demonstrably not Bob Dylan’.
‘At the beginning, I really wanted to be famous, but the star thing never worked for me, because I never thought I was a good star. I don’t have the certainty and self-assurance that real stars have.
‘I always felt a complete c*** on a red carpet and still do. And I feel an absolute w***** in a limousine.’
Yet Geldof continues to move in exulted, chauffeur-driven circles, part of him still relishing ‘the ludicrous showbiz circus’.
Does Geldof ever dream about Peaches? ‘No,’ he squints. ‘I can’t remember any dreams at least’
Names drop from his lips like autumn leaves, but an entertaining anecdote always follows.
He spins a yarn involving himself, U2’s Bono and Michael Jackson’s producer Quincy Jones visiting Pope John Paul II – ‘JP2’ – in Rome. It takes a full five minutes in the telling and culminates in Geldof pointing out that the Pontiff is wearing ‘cheap Polish Gucci knock-off shoes’ and an exasperated Bono accusing his old friend of having ‘Tourette’s of the soul’.
Geldof’s in unstoppable anecdotal flow now. Even a fleeting mention of Meghan Markle triggers him.
‘I did a thing with her in Canada,’ he recalls. (They both attended the One Young World summit in 2016). ‘She spoke at that and came across very well. A personable woman with a high intelligence who knew her brief. This was before she was the Duchess of whatever.’
As a pal of Prince Charles, Geldof has viewed recent royal developments, particularly Meghan and Harry’s stepping back from royal duties, with interest.
‘I bet Charles was the one who said to them, “It’s got to go this way”,’ he hints knowingly.
‘And I think it’s quite right, saying, “Well, you can’t have the money. You just can’t. You can’t be half in, half out. You can call yourself what you like but if you’re going to go and pimp yourself out to companies, that’s just not going to work.”’
Geldof predicts that Markle may return to acting. ‘If she gets another big series like Suits, she’ll be laughing.’
And Prince Harry? ‘He is strong enough to try to forge a life, but he’s got to find that life. Don’t forget his life has been entirely surrounded by the obligations of duty.’
Geldof acknowledges his ‘couple of mega-hits’, claims to be ‘an OK-ish lyricist’ but accepts that he is ‘demonstrably not Bob Dylan’
Geldof was friendly with Prince Harry’s mother Princess Diana. When the Irishman was orchestrating Live Aid, there was even a rumour that she had a crush on him.
‘A crush on me?’ he splutters. ‘No, but she certainly was flirty with all the pop people. She always did the flirty eyes thing.
‘Diana was a lovely girl really but she was manipulative, we know that: manipulating the Press, setting up the supposed paparazzi shots. She was a 20th-century girl and the royals, the grandparents, were essentially Edwardian characters and they just didn’t get it.’
Geldof is a grandfather himself and helps his widowed son-in-law Thomas Cohen with his two grandsons, Astala, seven, and Phaedra, six, whenever he can.
‘They’re beyond stupidly cute and completely hilarious,’ Geldof gushes. ‘And of course, they’re guys. I’ve only had girls, so that’s a big change. Lifting them up, I can’t believe the weight. Tom just scoops the two of them up. Some strength, he’s got.’
They play a game in the park – which Geldof re-enacts with infectious energy – called Space Commando Course, complete with imaginary intergalactic walkie-talkies. During these excursions ‘Grandpa Bob’ is, naturally enough, ‘Ground Control’.
‘The boys’ are regular visitors to Davington Priory in Faversham, a former Benedictine nunnery built in the 12th century that Geldof has owned since 1982.
It has provided the backdrop to every significant wedding, funeral and celebration in this ‘episodic, soap opera of a life’, and it is where he would like to end it.
‘I want suttee,’ Geldof announces, springing one final surprise. He alludes to the historical, now outlawed, Hindu practice of immolation.
‘I would literally convert to have it,’ he enthuses, entirely serious about his unusual funeral plan. ‘Because I don’t want to be locked into a coffin,’ Geldof insists. ‘And I don’t want to be put in a f****** pizza oven. I’ll have a pyre made of pallets and sticks out the front of the house and a party going on all around.
‘Leave me out in the open, light it up and let it happen,’ he declares, dramatic to the last. ‘Blessed oblivion.’
Geldof doesn’t believe he’ll meet his departed loved ones in the afterlife. This wasn’t an opinion shared by his father, Bob Snr, who died ten years ago, aged 96.
‘When he was 90, I said to him, “So, what’s the story, Dad? You die and Mum’s there waiting for you?” And he says, “Yes, that’s it.” So, I said, “Well, that’s a problem then.” He said, “Why?” I said, “She’s 40, you’re 90.”
‘He just said, “Feck off, will you?”’
Geldof is close to tears again, this time tears of laughter.
The Boomtown Rats’ new album, ‘Citizens Of Boomtown’, and Geldof’s new book, ‘Tales Of Boomtown Glory’, are both released on March 13