Such old hat: After 19 years, Bono goes to court to get his Stetson back

He is used to performing before thousands of adoring fans but U2's frontman Bono took centre stage yesterday in the hushed and solemn surroundings of Dublin's High Court.

The judge and lawyers were concerned not with his hits but with his hat, for the internationally famous singer was there to give evidence in a long-running case concerning his familiar Stetson.

Ownership of the hat is no trivial matter in the eyes of both Bono and the Lola Cashman, the former stylist who both claim ownership of the headgear. He regards it as an icon in the band's history - she claims he gave it to her.

The dispute dates back almost two decades. Last year, an Irish court found in favour of Bono but Ms Cashman has launched an appeal.

Although after 19 years the question of ownership might be viewed as old hat, the legal dispute is still going on. Ms Cashman had previously been ordered to hand back the hat and other items including trousers, a sweatshirt and hooped earrings, dating back to the band's 1987 Joshua Tree tour.

That was the outcome of a case last year when Bono, whose real name is Paul Hewson, and other band members successfully sued for the return of the material. Ms Cashman denied she had kept them without permission, maintaining they had been given to her.

Last year's hearing caused some bemusement when what some saw as a trivial issue became the subject of solemn legal proceedings. Yesterday's further legal sequel again propelled an item of rock headgear into the world of wigs and gowns.

In court Bono - hatless but resplendent in a chocolate-brown suit and wearing rose-coloured tinted glasses - described Ms Cashman being hired at what he said was a very big moment in the band's career.

He said: "Everything had come right for us. We had a lot of songs on radio around the world and particularly in the US we had a couple of No 1 singles." But they wanted a more stylish image, he indicated, and Ms Cashman "had a very good eye - she had a lot more experience than us."

He had already had the idea of making a Stetson hat a trademark, regarding it as a piece of American iconography. "It was always part of my idea of how I wanted to present myself to the world in an ironic sense," he explained.

He stressed it was important to the band to keep a record of their memorabilia either to archive or donate, adding: "We thought it would have some importance of the history of the band. We hoped we would be around long enough to be part of that."

Bono said Ms Cashman had been hired to replace the band's usual stylist, who was on maternity leave. He continued: "It was very clear on almost immediate arrival she wasn't good in dealing with personal relationships, and initially put a lot of people's noses out of place."

The Joshua Tree tour was a key moment in the rise of U2: they were already an established band but the tour helped them ascend into the stratosphere of superstardom. Bono has become not just a rock star but an important world figure.

In the years that followed the tour, the band and Ms Cashman have not had a cordial relationship, partly because she wrote an unauthorised account of behind-the-scenes life with them during that tour.

Her book appeared to create little impact, possibly because it seemed to pale into insignificance when compared to other rock memoirs. The account concentrated on rock'n'roll and was utterly devoid of any suggestions of sex and drugs.

Instead of producing startling and sensational revelations, its disclosures were limited to unexciting material such as Bono's reported worries over his height and weight.

It was in 2000, more than a decade after her employment with the band ended, that Ms Cashman put some memorabilia up for auction at Sotheby's. Then two years later, when she put other items up for sale at Christies, she received letters from the band's lawyers asking for their return.

In response she opened legal proceedings against the band in London, claiming the letters she received were defamatory.

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