Bob Geldof: Saint or sinner?

From saving the starving in Africa to reforming the UK family court system, Bob Geldof has an opinion about most things. But have we had enough of his moralising? <i>Julia Stuart</i> and <i>Tim Walker</i> report

Saturday 16 October 2004 00:00 BST
Fisseha Adugna, Ethiopian ambassador

Fisseha Adugna, Ethiopian ambassador

Bob Geldof is a great friend of the peoples of Ethiopia and Africa. I applaud his efforts in fighting poverty on the continent. He is a principled and uncompromising speaker who passionately believes in making a difference to the lives of so many and has devoted much of the past 20 years to campaigning for that cause. His work is exemplary and his dedication inspiring. We salute him for that.

Ann Widdecombe, Conservative MP

He's pointing out what a lot of us have been pointing out for years, which is that modern customs aren't always favourable to stable marriages and happy homes. He has made a major contribution, both in terms of what he has done for the underprivileged, but especially in drawing attention to one of the biggest injustices in our social system: the quite deliberate marginalisation of fathers in family break-up.

Daleep Mukarji, Director, Christian Aid

Bob Geldof has an unusual way of getting the attention of both politicians and the public because of his background. We have been working with him since 2002 when we came out with the report "Listen to Africa" and we wanted to take it to the Prime Minister. Bob Geldof offered to come with us. With his language, his knowledge and his passion he was able to get the attention of not just the Prime Minister but also the media. Since then it's been wonderful to see him take so much interest not just in Africa but the wider issues of increased aid, debt cancellation and trade justice for the people of Africa and elsewhere. I'm very proud of what he has done.

The question is: is he being used, or is he really going to make a difference? He's certainly got Africa on the agenda of the international community. It's great for us to have someone like him to make the issues popular and acceptable. He's well informed, he's well read and he's well prepared so when he speaks he shows consistency. His commitment to the issues of Africa is at least 20 years old. It's important for us to have people of the calibre and the commitment of Bob Geldof to contribute to the debate. Not just their name, but their knowledge of the facts.

Maureen Freely, Writer

He's a hero with a few flaws. He doesn't always get his facts right, but then again almost nobody does. I'm particularly pleased about what he says about family courts. He's in over his head when it comes to the marriage debate - he doesn't understand where he's getting his facts from and how he is being manipulated. But as far as family courts are concerned, he does know what he is talking about. I don't agree with all of his recommendations, but he's absolutely right: it's a total mess and I would go as far as saying a total mess for mothers and children, as well as fathers. I think he's quite heroic to be bringing it to our attention.

Jim Parton, Families Need Fathers

He's a hero. I'm not so bothered about his views on marriage, what they miss is that 50 per cent of people don't bother to get married anyway. But on fathers he's dead right. He describes things exactly as they are in rather a shocking way. He's the only person with any kind of reputation to lose who has stepped out and said this. He's a fashionable man championing an unfashionable issue and that takes bravery. No other celebrity has put themselves forward. No politician has put their head on the block to say that, actually, there is something quite bad going on which affects us all, not just fathers and children, but society as a whole because a lot of the nation's children are out of control. Why should we listen to him? Apart from the fact that he is intelligent, the fact is we live in a celebrity-obsessed culture and people take guidance from people like him.

Deirdre Forbes, Editor-in-chief, 'The Voice'

He's a hero. I have admired him from Band Aid times. Since then I have always thought of him as a humanitarian. He cares about the world and he hasn't stopped caring. I think that people listen when he speaks and if you have that power then use it for good causes, which is what he does. He believes in the family and I don't think that's a bad thing. It's all good traditional values. What he says makes sense to me.

Valerie Riches, President, Family and Youth Concern

It's probably taken a lot of courage to say the things that he's said. You are standing out against a society which still believes that everybody can do exactly what they want and get away with it. He's obviously seen that it doesn't work. He's a man saying these things born out of experience and he seems to have taken a very intelligent approach. He's pretty well clued up on his facts. He's saying the sort of things we've been saying for the past 30 years. I would say he's become a man of vision now and he's presenting society with a better way. He's a man to be listened to.

Bonnie Greer, Playwright and critic

He's a very interesting man and he's not a phoney. That's what makes him a hero for me because there are so many phonies out there. He says what he feels and in this day and age that's an heroic stance. People consider Geldof to be a controversial figure and that makes me wonder whether what he says carries any sort of weight. But I think he creates talking points and that's very valuable. What Geldof has done is put forward something that a lot of people are feeling. I don't agree with it, but I think that a lot of people feel that way because we are at a crossroads with relationships. He is the guy in the pub who opens his mouth and everyone turns around and says: 'Oh my God I can't believe he said that.'

Bea Campbell, Author

On the issue of divorce and mothers he is outrageous, arrogant, stupid, unhelpful and furious. What his own fury blinds him to is that women are impoverished by their mothering. The conditions in which women do the work of care are a national disgrace. So the question is, what is his problem? Why doesn't he direct his anger at the institutions which have done virtually nothing to address the things that really assail children and domestic life - the poverty and disrespect that mothers have to put up with; a culture of employment that demands of men that they become providers rather than parents; the fact that thousands of children have to witness their father being violent to their mother? These are the real issues that children face. Bob Geldof has been given a platform because we have a very misogynist government which is not interested in empowering women. Here you have a bloke who has been paid to say whatever he likes. It's bilge and yet it's given a massive airtime. Why? Because it's in the service of something that has great currency at the moment which is rage against women and rage against things that women have exposed and illuminated and tried to sort out. Nobody with any sense takes this stuff seriously.

Rod Liddle, Political commentator

It's hard to criticise a man for trying to help, but I think Bob Geldof is wrong about what to do with Africa. He knows a lot about Africa and overseas development, and he's very intelligent, very astute. His "give us the fucking money" attitude towards politicians seems to work too, but I just think he's wrong. I don't think the problems that Africa currently faces are necessarily a failure of the US, the UK and the rest of the world to subsidise Africa even further. Postcolonial guilt makes us look at Africa in a different way, but most African countries - all but four or five - are run by despotic regimes, who rule with a mixture of incompetence and wickedness. Much of what needs to be done is down to the African governments themselves. We've been too indulgent in the past. Obviously he's a decent man, and very likeable, and I'd agree with him about fathers' rights - it's one of the few bits of sexism left in our judiciary. His music's shite, though.

Midge Ure, Pop star and, Live Aid founder

I learned that when standing next to Bob it's best to try to block out whatever he is singing. Bob's not the best guitar player in the world because he's got no timing at all. You could see that if you watched the Boomtown Rats. When he jumped up in the air he was supposed to hit the floor just as the song finished, but generally he landed five seconds before it ended, or three seconds after the band finished.

In the weeks leading up to Live Aid I felt increasingly sidelined. For the six months since Band Aid it had been the two of us - Bob Geldof and Midge Ure. All of a sudden it was Bob everywhere while I had been relegated to the same stature as every other artist. I wasn't doing Live Aid to get patted on the back but I did feel increasingly edged out; the ranks had closed and I was nowhere to be seen. The machine that had built up around Bob had decided that my job was done, which pissed me off. Bob became the face of Live Aid while I was just another guy at the Trust meetings.

Joan Smith, Columnist

He's obviously very good at energising other people and dynamic in the field of raising money and getting people to move. But he seems to me to have the intellectual capacity of some bloke in a pub and we wouldn't expect an intelligent documentary on a complicated subject from some bloke in a pub. But because he is famous, and a pop star, he is given that platform. If he was just happy to be a former pop star who went off to Africa and got people taking the problem seriously, then that side of him is very good. But he's been given a platform for views which are kind of Neanderthal. If somebody won the Nobel Prize for physics you wouldn't necessarily say they had intelligent views on relations between men and women or what shape the family should take. There is no reason why we should take him seriously on it. Relations between men and women are very disturbed at the moment and what he's saying is just a classic backlash.

Jack O'Sullivan, Co-founder, Fathers Direct

I recognise the Celtic roots of his melancholia; his self-pity as well as his deep kindness. As for his anger towards women, I can only imagine what it was like to lose his mother so young and his wife so tragically. This great-great- grand-child of the Irish famine serves starving peoples nobly. Geldof's pasts also provide him with an insight into the incompetence of the family courts and the grief of fathers who have lost their children. But they leave him ill-equipped to sympathise with mothers' emotions in this debate. The world of post-separation families is unfair, in different ways, to children, women and men. Sadly, Bob Geldof can see only part of the picture.

James Page, Friend and co-founder of

I think Bob is a very creative and intelligent person. He's a good friend, but I'm sick of Irish people - Bob and Bono - speaking on behalf of Africans. It is like a parent needing to speak on behalf of the child. Why not let the child speak? I would much prefer an African to be accompanying Blair to Africa and speaking at the Labour conference. But is that the media's fault or Bob's? He's a great talker, a great musician and a good man.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Columnist

I think on Africa he's a hero, no question. But on family policy he's gravely mistaken and quite a worrying influence because of his heroic status. I think people should be very careful to take Geldof's views on family life at all seriously because I think like many of us he's so conditioned by his own life. Those of us who have been damaged within our marriages are not reliable when it comes to family policy.

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