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Bob Geldof - Biography

The Irish star shot to fame as the lead singer of The Boomtown Rats

Sir Bob Geldof in blue suit © Getty Images
Phoebe Tatham
Content Writer
Updated: November 9, 2023
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How many ex-punk rockers can you name who are ripe for musical canonisation? Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten's applications must have got lost in the post. But not Bob Geldof, whose marshalling the world to help the victims of the mid-1980s famine in Ethiopia earned him a knighthood, along with a Nobel Peace prize nomination.

His early life

Born in Dun Laoghaire, close to Dublin, on October 5, 1954, Robert Frederick Xenon Geldof did not shine as a child, concocting his own school reports to appease his father, with whom he had a touchy relationship. His mother died when Bob was just seven years old.After stints as a butcher, road navvy, and pea canner, Bob started writing reviews for the now defunct rock weekly Melody Maker. 

But the music scribe aspired to be on the other side of the fence and, in 1975, he and his mate Garry Roberts formed a band. Initially called the Nightlife Thugs, they changed their moniker to the Boomtown Rats, naming themselves after a gang in a Woody Guthrie song.

The Boomtown Rats were signed by Mercury records in 1977, the year punk rock exploded in Britain, and Bob pronounced his ambition: "get rich, get famous, and get laid," showing a mastery of the soundbite that has yet to desert him. The outfit had four years of success, scoring nine consecutive Top Fifteen singles, including the smash, I Don't Like Mondays.While Bob's music wasn't a hit on the other side of the pond, his film career got a fillip after he appeared in the 1982 rock movie Pink Floyd, The Wall. 

His charity work

But it was not until two years later that the Irishman really became a household name. Watching the news one night, he was horrified by a report on the famine in Ethiopia. "I felt disgusted and ashamed by what was going on in Africa, and I felt that if I didn't do something, I was taking part in some crime. 

It wasn't enough to put my hand in my pocket and give money," Bob later told a reporter. So he got on the phone, calling up his extensive contacts in the music world to persuade, cajole and bully them into pooling their resources. The result was the all-star Band Aid and the poignant song Do They Know It's Christmas? 

The charity record went on to sell over three million copies and, thanks to Bob's foresight, an unprecedented 96 pence from each record went to aid relief. Six months later, on July 13, 1985, came Live Aid. Over 60 acts played for free in London and Philadelphia. "Give us your [expletive] money," he exhorted the 1.5 billion viewers, live on TV, and they did. 

Over $84 million was raised for the starving and the dying in Ethiopia. Physically and emotionally drained, Bob returned to what he knew best music but it was not all plain sailing. The Rats disbanded in 1986 and their singer, after writing his autobiography, Is That It?, settled into a solo career and the role of family man. He already had a daughter, Fifi Trixibelle, with TV presenter and former rock chic Paula Yates, and they went on to have two more Peaches Honeyblossom and Pixie.

And then came the next phase of Bob's amazing life. He set up a TV production company, Planet 24, which developed one of the broadcasting phenomena of the Nineties: The Big Breakfast. Fronted by zany redhead Chris Evans, Gaby Roslin and Paula, the programme launched in September 1992 and was an instant hit, blowing away the cobwebs associated with other early morning programmes.

The Big Breakfast was also where Paula would meet the man she would eventually leave Bob for Aussie rocker Michael Hutchence. When she was caught in a hotel with the INXS singer, the scandal left Britain aghast not least Bob himself, who said he felt like a failure for letting his marriage unravel. Bob later sold his £5-million-worth of shares in Planet 24, and set up myriad other business ventures, from websites to radio companies and mobile phone ventures. 

Now a millionaire businessman, he still works relentlessly for the poor and collaborates with friend Bono to publicise Drop The Debt a campaign to relieve the debts of the world's most economically challenged countries. In 2005, he organised Live 8, a follow-up concert to Live Aid, in conjunction with the G8 Summit held in Scotland. 

The one-day extravaganza featured over 100 international music stars performing in cities around the world.

His personal life

Today, the lanky Irishman lives in a large Victorian house in Chelsea with his wife, French actress Jeanne Marine, his three daughters and Michael and Paula's little girl, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily. 

The pop star-turned-humanitarian-turned businessman also became "dad" to Tiger Lily following Paula's tragic demise in September 2000, three years after Michael was found dead in an Australian hotel room.

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