Bob Geldof

Geldof, musician and political activist, dons his business suit

A day in the life: The ex-Boomtown Rat and founder of Ten Alps has no fixed job – and no e-mail.

7.30am

Today hasn’t started well for Bob Geldof. He’s up early; well before 9am, when he usually peels himself out of bed. The boiler has broken, he’s cold and feeling grumpy. He suffers more than the usual genetic dose of Celtic melancholy in the mornings. A three-cup dose of coffee usually helps pull him out of it.

It’s not a normal day. He has to shave and put a suit on. The car will be here soon. He’s being forced out of his sacred daily regime, to give a speech to 1,500 top international business executives at the Leaders in London Conference. They have each paid up to £5,000 to listen to him, and other luminaries such as Colin Powell and Sir Richard Branson give insights into the secrets of success.

Coffee drunk and boiler repair arranged, a suited and booted Geldof gets into the car that will take him north across London and over the Thames to Westminster.

9.30am

At a time when he is normally sipping his second coffee and poring over the morning papers, Geldof is standing under the ornate dome of the Great Methodist Hall in Central London. The audience of suited businessmen and women is rapt.

Geldof has moved between the worlds of music, political activism and business and his credentials for the talk are diverse. The Boomtown Rats had two number one singles, his passion helped Live Aid raise more than £150m and his opinions on the future of Africa are regularly sought by the likes of Tony Blair and Kofi Annan. Planet 24, the television production company he co-founded, redefined television with programmes The Big Breakfast and The Word, before being sold to Carlton in 1999. One of his current business projects, Ten Alps, which he co-founded and is a non-executive director of, is valued at £37m.

He walks as he talks, pacing back and forth across the oval stage in an immaculately cut slim-fit, pin-stripe suit, his grey haystack of hair the only non-conformist hint. “I wanted to live in the world in a way that I fitted in, on my own terms,” he tells them.

He describes the fire that drives him, how he has been driven by a need to control the agenda, a passion for ideas and a desire to bring them to life. And not just any ideas, but the practical ones, those that work to make life better in some way. Whether that is The Big Breakfast so his kids had something they enjoyed watching before going to school, or his tireless attacks on what he sees as the injustices that keep so many Africans in abject poverty.

“I love to articulate the Zeitgeist, if that doesn’t sound too wanky. You just feel the moment you’re in and act on it”. Ten Alps’ new venture is a good example of what Geldof loves; a simple idea that can work well if the time is right. Next week the company will launch Public TV, a collection of all the high-quality videos on government, public sector, business and professional subjects. Essentially it is searchable, niche internet television. Clients will be able to search for and download factual programming on a range of subjects. Next the idea will be to roll out the concept to a wide range of professions and interest groups. Not only will it provide tailored content, but it will be the ideal vehicle for niche advertising.

For an entire hour or so Geldof speaks, regaling the audience with anecdotes from his life that prove his “get on and do it” ethos. “I am chronically impatient, with myself more than anyone,” he tells them. All the time he strides to and fro across the stage with a restless intensity. And it is not a tic, not something he does because he is addressing an audience; it is how he spends a normal day. As he tells me later: “I am always walking up and down in the flat with my mobile phone cradled into my neck, noodling away on a guitar.”

11.30am

Speech and question session over, we escape to a side room. He is relaxed, friendly and talkative. He is fascinated by the adaptor that turns my iPod into a dictaphone. He loves the possibilities of technology, yet bizarrely, he is a technophobe. He only had broadband installed last week, and that was only because his daughters were moaning that they couldn’t do their homework without it.

“I don’t have e-mail. E-mail is a great encumbrance. I also don’t have an office because I feel it would intrude on my day. I have eight offices around London but I don’t go into them because I would become engaged and want to go to all the meetings.”

And so he does most of his business at home. We discuss his passions and how he divides his time between four interests; music, politics, business and the family.

“I don’t structure the day, I do something because I feel like it. Not having a fixed job to go to, you have to invent your day and it’s exhausting. Because melancholy is a natural state for me, I have to keep entertaining my brain. I keep frantically and purposely busy to keep the melancholy away. That’s the animus. The wedge isn’t the animus. I’ve made money and I have money but it isn’t what drives me. Ideas are really what gets me going.”

It is ideas that come to fruition that are his reward. Another of his business projects is Groupcall, a mobile phone software company that reads school computer attendance records and then sends a text message to parents telling them their child has arrived safely. “The ones I love most are odd and obvious, and it doesn’t have to be my idea. Groupcall was not my idea, but when my mate came to me I thought, ‘That’s a stonker. I love that. I want that’. And again, there was a practical, personal reason. One of my kids was crossing London on the bus to go to school each day and I was worried and this technology lets me know that she’d got to school OK.”

And he has new ideas to mould into reality, but he won’t tell me what they are. His passion is obvious as he talks, almost incessantly, but always affably. That is, until we finish and the photographer asks if he would pose for a portrait. “Fuck off!” he snaps, but then, just as quickly, he smiles: “You’ve got loads of me already!”

12pm

Geldof is taken away by a television producer to do a live interview for Sky TV in a corner of the conference hall. Then a reporter from Reuters grabs him for another interview. Half way through, he pops out to tell me that Ten Alps announces its annual figures next Tuesday and suggests I should go along to the press briefing. “This Public TV thing, I’m really excited about it,” he says, before ducking back into the room.

1pm

Geldof is hosting a lunch for 150 conference delegates, a roll-call of blue-chip executives from companies such as HSBC, Lloyds, Microsoft. Over a meal of char-grilled asparagus wrapped in serrano ham with herb and rocket salad, followed by Orkney salmon, Geldof continues his theme: idea, persuasion and perseverance.

3pm

Finally he is free. It’s not that the conference was something he didn’t want to do. Try getting him to do anything he doesn’t want to. But now he can return to his day, on his terms. Free from the fetters of his suit he can pace his own kitchen and living room, phone clasped to an ear, guitar in hand, making plans, negotiating deals. He will call Data, the lobby group he set up with Bono. He will check in with some of his other business ventures, and then head over to his favourite cafe, his concession to an office, where the phone calls, the plotting and the persuasion continue.

7pm

Time for his other passion, family and friends. “A meal and a bottle of excellent Claret or maybe Bordeaux, though the meal I am indifferent to. Largely.”

 

The Independent Business section, Saturday 2 December 2006 [read it here]

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