Geldof and Blair work together, but not in harmony

In his first diary report in the run-up to the G8 summit, Paul Vallely reveals what went on behind the scenes at MTV
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Indy Politics

On the eve of Live8, and less than a week before the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Tony Blair and Bob Geldof came together in a place that sums up the dynamic of the current campaign to help Africans make their continent a better place, the studios of MTV.

But before they went out to answer questions from an audience of 41 young people from 26 countries – and satellited-in celebrities including Destiny's Child, Snoop and REM, with video feed-ins from Bono and Coldplay – the two men met in private in the green room.

There the Prime Minister reported on his telephone conversation with George Bush earlier that day, after the US President had announced he was increasing aid to Africa by $4.5bn. Geldof for his part filled Blair in on his telephone to-ings and fro-ings with Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Madonna, who all had thoughts about who should be topping the bill in Hyde Park tomorrow, and how. "You're better off dealing with [Jacques] Chirac," Geldof quipped.

In the studio the contrast between the two men was striking. They sat on a curved bench for a sound check. Blair perched stiffly in his suit and red tie, peering around nervously. Geldof was easy and relaxed, chatting unaffectedly with the audience. Both carried on their faces the greying tinge of utter exhaustion.

The title of the show, in the same MTV slot the prime minister had used in 2003 to reveal that he was prepared to go to war on Iraq without a second UN resolution, was "All eyes on Tony Blair" – a pre-echo of one of tomorrow's Live8 themes "We'll be watching you" in which Sting will sing his stalker's anthem "Every Breath You Take" with the G8 leaders as its subject.

As the studio went live Blair still looked unsettled. The audience began with simple questions. "Who or what is the G8?", "Why can't we put an end to poverty in Africa?"

Geldof watched from the green room, with his daughter Fifi ruffling his hair. "I work in the advertising dept," she explained. "They brought me down because they had heard dad can be difficult. I can't think why."

Geldof was summoned into the studio. "Who is Bob Geldof anyway?" asked a 16-year-old from Kosovo of her neighbour. She soon found out.

Blair had come alive as he spoke. The fixed glaze had gone from his eyes.

But as Geldof sat beside him the awkwardness seemed to return to his body language. Blair ceased being the politicians and tried to play the pop star. "It's just like the guys from Coldplay were saying . . . "

Not that Geldof seemed any happier. He knows rock stars are supposed to be contrarian and confrontational. "I seem too often to agree with yer man here". But when a politician has done what you asked him it seems churlish not to acknowledge the fact.

Even so, uncomfortable still, even after a year together on the Commission for Africa, at the thought of being complicit, Geldof found something to disagree with Blair about – the demands that Africa opens its markets to Western good in return for debt relief.

"They have a miserable 2 per cent of world trade and we have 98 per cent. Do we need that? But that could all be changed at Gleneagles, couldn't it Tony?

"Possibly Bob," said the political Laurel to Geldof's Hardy.

"Live 8 will have a potential TV audience of 5.5 billion people – that's almost the entire planet. Go to Gleneagles and tell them you've got the largest democratic mandate the world has ever seen."

Tony Blair grinned. Another fine mess you got me into.