LET’S get something straight about Band Aid, shall we? When the concept was invented, way back in 1984, the world was a very different place. Everything then was so much smaller. There was no public internet, so no YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.
Few of us had been much further than Spain on our holidays, so we had very little knowledge or experience of how people really lived in Africa. Pop stars were still held in a kind of semi-reverence. We were generally spared the sight of them “off-duty” and probably wouldn’t have recognised them without their make-up if we fell across them in the gutter.
In that context, when Bob Geldof brought a load of them together to record the original Band Aid track, Do They Know It’s Christmas?, to raise money for the starving in Africa, it was a deal bigger than anything the music industry had ever witnessed. It created such an eclectic band – Bono, Paul Young, Duran Duran, Francis Rossi, the girls out of Bananarama, who looked as if they had just got up – that the public were blown away.
We were all a lot more innocent and easily impressed then. To most of us, pop stars were minor deities, not the manufactured products of X Factor. The concept of famous people pulling together to raise money for a good cause was new and exciting.
Until then, most of us thought of charity as a sponsored walk or a lady outside Littlewoods with a collecting tin. None of us had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to help save elephants, or jumped out of an aeroplane for a cats’ home. And none of us had heard of the term “charity fatigue”.
Excuse me then if I am more than a little cynical about Band Aid 2014, which is raising cash to fight Ebola. This has nothing to do with the quality of the music. Only a fool would attempt a serious analysis of a charity single on the basis of artistic merit. I have a lot of time for Sir Bob Geldof, but I am afraid to say that this project is more about him and less about working together for a common good.
I don’t want to sound crass, but it is only a few months since he lost his daughter, Peaches Geldof, in tragic circumstances. It doesn’t take a psychologist to work out that this latest venture is a way for him to divert his energies into something positive.
This is no excuse for bullying and hectoring though. Is it just me who feels a bit nauseous at being ordered to part with my hard-earned cash by a man worth an estimated £32m? He postures himself as so right-on. Yet his attitude towards ultra-successful singer/songwriter Adele – who declined to take part in the single – shows his true colours. “Adele is doing nothing,” he complained. “She’s not answering the phone... she’s not writing. She’s not recording. She doesn’t want to be bothered by anyone... She’s bringing up a family, you know.”
What gives him the right to criticise her for choosing to stay at home with her young son? What irony that this comes from a man who has made much of his own decision to devote a large part of his life to raising four children. And given his will of iron, I can’t imagine anyone persuading Sir Bob himself to do anything he doesn’t want to do. He didn’t have as much to say when it emerged that the North London-born multi-millionaire singer had quietly made a donation to Oxfam.
But then this is the problem. The entire exercise is predicated on the premise that British people are uncharitable when, in fact, the opposite is true. Things have changed since 1984. It’s fair to say that Great Britain today is a much more caring, sharing kind of place. You only have to look at Children in Need, the annual sobfest which this year raised almost £33m and also came complete with a charity single, for proof of that. You only have to look at my daughter’s school, which recently raised more than £3,000 for the NSPCC – that’s an average of £10 per pupil, and this is by no means an affluent area.
In the last 30 years, we’ve come to realise that charity is a fact of life; no government has endless resources to hand out, and there are many things which wouldn’t happen without dedicated voluntary input. And actually, the global response to the Ebola crisis has been pretty impressive so far, from troops being sent from overseas to brave medics taking it upon themselves to volunteer to look after the dying. Does Sir Bob think that none of read the papers or watch the news? That he is some kind of Messiah whose word is the only word?
In this, he is sadly deluded and, like those cringeworthy haircuts on the original Band Aid video, about three decades out of date. Today’s music industry is riven with selfishness and cynicism. It is wrong of Sir Bob Geldof to assume that this means the rest of us are too.