Harvey Goldsmith sets his sights on London's biggest gig

The rock promoter reckons he could be a future mayor, he tells Andy McSmith

It was a little over 25 years ago when Britain's best known rock promoter, Harvey Goldsmith, came back from organising a Wham! tour in China to find a scruffy Irish singer waiting outside his office.

It was Bob Geldof, who was in the grip of a wild idea that he could stage the biggest charity rock concert in history. He had Wembley Stadium booked, he had friends in the rock business lined up to perform, and all he needed was a promoter to handle the organisation. Goldsmith said yes and the rest, as they say, is history.

Not just history, but drama. A company called Great Meadow Productions has begun filming a drama documentary for BBC2, entitled When Harvey Met Bob starring Domhnall Gleeson as Geldof and Ian Hart as Goldsmith.

Bob Geldof has never been out of the news for long since the day in July 1985 when he was seen alongside Prince Charles and Princess Diana at the opening of Live Aid. Goldsmith, by contrast, generally avoids the public eye. Ten years ago, there was speculation that his business career was over when one of his businesses collapsed. But he was not finished then and he is still around. We met inside the O2 on the south bank of the Thames.

This building was once a great white elephant. Built to mark the millennium, it ran vastly over budget, gobbling up Lottery money, and then failed to draw the millions of visitors needed to break even.

That is an old story. Now, far from a white elephant, it is a highly successful entertainment village beneath a canvas roof, run by Philip Anschutz, head of the multinational entertainment group AEG – a transformation for which we can thank Harvey Goldsmith.

"I was involved way back at the start of the Millennium exhibition. When eventually it took the shape it did, I found it quite abhorrent. Here was a space that was empty and no one could come up with a way of using it," he said.

"Phil Anschutz came over to England to try to buy Wembley, and got very frustrated when he couldn't. I kind of dragged him down here, screaming a bit, and said: 'Look at this space, think of it as a massive umbrella, and think what you could do inside it'. What Phil did was take this empty huge space and build a town. Part of developing the town was what to put in it, and from the get go I thought we had such a rich tradition of contemporary music here that we ought to have somewhere that reflects it."

That last remark refers to the British Musical Experience, which is a museum complete with glass cases stuffed with exhibits, and yet unlike any other museum anywhere in the UK. It is all very high-tech. The centrepiece is the Gibson Interactive studio where kids can get guitar lessons from a virtual KT Tunstall, or drumming lessons, or record themselves singing. There is a booth where a virtual instructor tells you how to perform the dance of your choice. Your performances are recorded and can be accessed at home. The walls dance with footage of half-forgotten rock legends.

"This is all about noise," Goldsmith remarked. "Most museums are static, but we wanted to make this interactive. The exhibition starts in 1946, when young people started to let go a bit, right through to tomorrow. Parents can come and reflect on their history, and the kids can come and say 'I've never heard of Jimi Hendrix'."

That year, 1946, happens also to be the year Goldsmith was born, which meant he timed his entry into the world very nicely for the great rock explosion of the 1960s. A tailor's son, brought up in Edgware, he found his vocation organising gigs at Brighton University, and has worked for over 40 years with some of the wildest acts in the business. He was there the first time Keith Moon, of The Who, hurled a television set through a hotel window. "He was a wonderful character and completely harmless, in truth, but a little bit over-exuberant," Goldsmith said.

As he approaches the default retirement age, he has an eye on Boris Johnson's job as Mayor of London. "At some point I would like to stand for Mayor. Boris Johnson is clearly doing some good, but I don't really feel that he's doing enough. London is the greatest city in the world, but it's in a bit of a malaise at the moment, even though we have got the euphoria of the Games coming up. But one thing I know from being on the fringe involving a number of Olympic Games is that there's a terrible post-Olympic malaise. We need to prepare for that and we need to start preparing for it now."

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