Enormous egos, impossible demands, and backstage booze and drugs for the stars. The inside story of how Live Aid took charity global in the decade of greed
WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS: Freddie Mercury and Queen unashamedly stole the show at Wembley.
On July 13, 1985, nearly two billion people – a third of humanity – tuned in to Live Aid, the global jukebox that raised millions for the starving of Africa.
Only 72,000 were lucky enough to be at Wembley to see history in the making, but Dylan Jones was one of them.
Here, in an extract from his new book, he recalls the madness behind the event: from the promoter trying to get Nasa to fly Mick Jagger into space, to Stevie Wonder refusing to be the ‘token black artist’.
And he reveals a key figure’s VERY rude comments about Diana’s hair…
That day, Saturday July 13, 1985, everyone got up with the same purpose in mind.
It didn’t matter what you were doing, you knew where you would be. For months we had talked of little else.
We were going to Wembley to be part of the world’s biggest-ever charity concert, organised by Bob Geldof, a fading pop star who had been horrified by the famine in Ethiopia, and was determined to do something about it.
‘Everyone has a common experience of it, everyone remembers where they were and what they felt about it,’ said Harry Potter author JK Rowling.
‘It’s one of those little pegs that you hang all your other memories on.’
GIVE US YOUR MONEY! 72,000 people watched live at Wembley, and an estimated two billion tuned in worldwide.
Geldof woke at seven, having gone to bed at two. His stomach was sore with tension. His penultimate phone call of the night had been with the manager of an American band who said that unless their set was lengthened, they would pull out.
‘Well, f***ing pull out. I’m going to bed,’ said Geldof.
Minutes earlier he had had a call from U2’s office, threatening to pull the band as they hadn’t been offered a soundcheck. His response was typical: ‘F*** ’em.’
Geldof quickly dressed, throwing on the same clothes he’d worn every day for weeks, a denim shirt and skinny trousers.
‘I thought about what to wear, but in the end it seemed preposterous,’ he said. ‘Seriously, now, what was I dressing up for? A drought? A famine? Television?’
Some artists arrived by car, others by helicopter (among them Elton John, David Bowie, Spandau Ballet, The Who and George Michael).
ROYAL COUP: The Prince and Princess of Wales sat with Bob Geldof. Charles ‘didn’t want to be there’, according to Geldof, while Diana ‘liked pop stars and was always flirting with them’
They were landing on a nearby cricket field, where, that evening, a wedding reception took place.
After complaints from the father of the bride, David Bowie was dispatched to smooth things over, and, of course, have his picture taken with the bride and groom.
Live Aid had been organised in just 19 weeks – a global village Woodstock with a mission. One of the reasons it caused such a stir was because of the environment in which it blossomed.
On paper, a global charity concert with Bob Dylan, Elton John, The Rolling Stones and a Beatle should have happened in the 1970s, not the selfish, grasping 1980s.
We were in the Reagan/Thatcher era, when political intransigence was king and market forces determined everything. In this context, Live Aid seemed positively contrary. Which is possibly why it struck such a chord.
Madonna performed on stage in Philadelphia. There were 90,000 in the crowd
Live Aid was truly to be a day of numbers.
Along with the 72,000 at Wembley, there were 90,000 in Philadelphia, with two billion watching worldwide on 500 million TVs, via 14 satellites.
More people would see Bob Geldof swear on television than saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. £11 million was raised in the UK that day, with another £36 million in the States.
There were pledges totalling £50 million. 50,000 £5 programmes and 10,000 £2.50 posters had sold out before Status Quo reached the stage.
Each artist was supposed to have exactly 18 minutes on stage.
There was a traffic-light system at the side of the stage, and when the amber went on it meant they had a minute left.
‘You won’t see red because that’s when the power goes,’ said the stage manager.
‘There was quite low morale with all of the crew and I had to pep them up,’ said organiser Harvey Goldsmith.
‘Then I got a phone call from Tommy Mottola, from Sony. He said if we didn’t make sure Hall & Oates were on the ABC two-hour special, as well as the MTV broadcast of the whole show, he was pulling Mick Jagger.
‘I told him, it is what it is. It’s too late now and if you want to pull Mick Jagger, pull him, but I don’t think you’re going to succeed.’
At 11 o’clock, Charles and Diana arrived.
‘Getting Diana and Charles to come was a major thing because I’m not sure he really wanted to be there,’ said Geldof.
‘Diana certainly liked pop stars, and she was always flirting with them. You had this amazing galaxy of rock stars, and yet Diana was the most famous woman on the planet.
‘As soon as I knew she was going to come, I knew the Americans would tune in.’
Stars come out: David Bowie (left) performed heroes; Bono and Paul McCartney (right). Each artist was supposed to have exactly 18 minutes on stage
David Bailey had been asked to photograph everyone backstage, and had constructed a makeshift studio, catching them as they came off stage.
‘I loved it because I was one of only four people with the magic pass, where you could go everywhere,’ he said. ‘It was like Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket.
‘Diana was a nice, upper-class Sloaney girl, but she was no great beauty. They used to call Prince Charles handsome and dashing, too, which really is a stretch.
‘Diana was all right, but she insisted on that terrible hairdo, like a wig. She had terrible posture.’
So many people backstage had little sinners’ grins that day, from the booze and the drugs that appeared to be readily on tap.
‘There was a lot of gear backstage,’ said PR Gary Farrow. ‘If there had been a Lance Armstrong-style blood test, there wouldn’t have been many who would have passed.’
Before he went on stage, Bono had already had an extraordinary day, not least his encounter with Freddie Mercury, which shows how rough around the edges U2 still were.
‘Freddie pulled me aside and said, “Oh, Bono . . . Is it Bo-No or Bon-O?” I told him, “It’s Bon-O.
‘I was up against a wall and he put his hand on the wall and was talking to me like he was chatting up a chick. I thought, “Wow, this guy’s really camp.”
£11 million was raised in the UK that day, with another £36million in the States. There were pledges totalling £50 million.
‘I was telling somebody later and he said, “You’re surprised? They’re called Queen!” But I was really amazed. It hadn’t dawned on me.’
Bowie had originally intended to perform a transatlantic duet with Mick Jagger, exploiting the half-second time delay between Wembley and Philadelphia by performing a reggae song.
After several attempts, they decided this wasn’t going to happen. The next idea involved a rocket ship, as Bowie wanted one of them to be inside a Space Shuttle, doing a duet with the other on Earth.
‘I made a call to Nasa,’ said Goldsmith. ‘I asked them if they had a spare rocket we could send Mick Jagger up in. I could tell they were thinking, “Who is this nutcase?” ’
It was crucial that there was at least one surviving member of The Beatles at Wembley – and Paul McCartney was the obvious choice.
While he hadn’t performed live since the assassination of John Lennon five years earlier, it was felt that if anything could drag him back on to a stage, this was it.
‘I wrote to Paul McCartney at home and asked if he would sing Let It Be. “If you do, the world will cry,” I wrote,’ said Geldof.
But Sting thought McCartney’s choice of song was a bit odd.
Martin Kemp, Gary Kemp and Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet perform on stage at Live Aid.
‘He did Let It Be – but the whole point of the concert was to do something, to change things, to not let it be,’ said the Police frontman.
Many acts said no to Geldof. Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart turned it down – as did Liza Minnelli, Yoko Ono and Cyndi Lauper.
Rod Stewart couldn’t get a band together. Boy George was having serious drug problems. Tears For Fears were one of the biggest bands in the world.
‘Bob Geldof announced that we were playing,’ said the band’s Curt Smith.
‘He never asked us. I was p****d off. So we went on holiday.’
An original ticket from the Live Aid Wembley concert
Geldof had a couple of bum steers, too. Bill Wyman apparently told him not to approach the Stones because ‘Keith doesn’t give a f***’.
And many black acts weren’t interested.
‘We tried every major black act both here in the UK and in the U.S.,’ said Goldsmith.
‘It was embarrassing. Some even wanted money.
‘Stevie Wonder eventually agreed to appear, but then he phoned me up and said, ‘‘I am not going to be the token black on the show.’’ ’
It was rumoured The Beatles would re-form with Julian Lennon on guitar. But Geldof’s call to George Harrison was less than productive.
‘Paul didn’t ask me to sing on it (Let It Be) ten years ago, why does he want me now?’ – and so the idea was parked.
But Live Aid spawned a new generation of giving. It woke people up in a way no event of this kind had done before.
Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp had his own thoughts.
‘Live Aid was a genuine response from the people,’ he said.
‘It gave everyone a chance to do something above and beyond government and make a political change with their postal orders, chequebooks, piggy banks and credit cards.
‘What came out of Live Aid was a sense of people power so strong that it’s carried on to Red Nose Days and TV fundraising and charitable concerts.’
The 1980s is often seen as the decade of greed and the supremacy of Wall Street.
But for many, it is the decade of overwhelming kindness and generosity. Live Aid was the day of days.
‘The Eighties: One Day, One Decade’, by Dylan Jones, is published by Preface, priced £25.
To order your copy at £18 with free p&p, call the Mail Book Shop on 0844 472 4157 or visit mailbookshop.co.uk.
So it was £5.00 for a ticket, plus a £20.00 donation, in other words £25.00 a ticket. In 1985 Deep Purple played at Knebworth, also on the bill was Meatloaf, the Scorpions. Blackfoot. UFO. Mountain, plus others. Tickets for that event were £12.50. If your fave band was on tour in 1985, you would pay around £4.00 for a concert ticket. Having to pay £25.00 was unheard of.
So in London, there were 72,000 people at £25.00 a ticket and there were 90,000 people in America that paid £25.00 a ticket. On top of that, there were £50 million in pledges, there 50,000 programmes sold at £5.00 each plus 10,000 posters at £2.50 each. That was just on the day, money was still pouring in through the week after the concert.
I wonder how much of that money went on drugs for the artists. Cocaine doesn’t come cheap and how much went on beer and Champagne. How much were the bands paid, they say they took no fee, but someone paid for the helicopters to pick up the artists and then there are the Limo’s. Then there was the after show party and all the hotels the artists were put up in, you can bet none of them would sleep in a Travel Lodge.
But the biggest question of all was, were as all the money gone, not forgetting that Bob Geldof put out a record called Do They Know It’s Christmas, that record alone brought in a few million pounds. How many countries got clean water, not many, how many hungry people got fed, again, not many. They raised enough money in 1985, for those poor countries never to want for clean water or food ever again, but today in 2017, charities are still begging for money and i wonder why. What really happened to all that money. I for one think Bob Geldof made a hell of a lot of money out of Live Aid and not forgetting that Geldof made millions more the year after when he organised Sport Aid, so instead of all these charities asking the public for money, go and knock of Geldof’s door and get the money off him.