Bono Goes to War Against AIDS
12/4/03 Paris Match
U2's singer was in Cape Town with other stars for the World AIDS Day
[concert] sponsored by Nelson Mandela. He wants to bring the West
face to face with its guilty conscience. An exclusive interview.
Sunday, the day after his concert, Bono, one of the more private rock
stars, agreed to receive Paris Match reporters in his room at the
Cape Town Sheraton. From our special correspondent in Cape Town, Dany
The thing about Bono is his gaze. He sees through people. Generous
and sensitive, what he shows is what he is: he doesn't cheat. He's a
good person, a rare commodity in this profession. The only people
around him are quality people. And while he could be wallowing in
his celebrity – he's got the means ; after all he is the biggest rock
star in the world – instead he's chosen to be the voice of those who
have no means at all.
Paris Match. During the concert I was watching you from the wings.
These thousands of people who applaud you, who scream your name as
soon as you come onstage, does that still do anything for you ?
Bono. If you need 35,000 people every night telling you they love
you to feel normal, you've got a hell of a problem. The great
artists are the most troubled and hypersensitive people in the
world. It's written into our DNA. I have the sensitivity of a
reptile. Right now I'm talking to you, but I feel the tiniest
vibrations in this room. I'm always acutely aware of what's going on
around me, as if all of a sudden danger would burst in the door.
PM. You call that sensitivity; I'd call it paranoia.
Bono. OK, I'm paranoid. I'm always on the alert, ready to get hit
or maybe, who knows, to be kissed. [laughs]
PM Yesterday when Nelson Mandela delivered his speech in the Robben
Island prison courtyard, where he was held for 27 years, you were the
only one of all the artists who had tears in your eyes.
Bono. I've never been ashamed of showing my emotions. I'm very
easily moved. I was bowled over, finding myself in that prison
courtyard. This man fascinates me. In spite of his humor, the
elegant way he always stands up straight, I have the idea that he
can't forget, not for a second, that they stole 27 years of his life
from him. Mandela, like Kofi Annan, is one of those man who have a
certain grace. The person who has affected me the most is the
archbishop, Desmond Tutu. He is inhabited by the Gospel. Tutu's got
the laugh which for me is the real evidence of liberty.
PM. You're a person of unbelievable kindness, attentive to everyone,
always available. For the biggest rock star in the world, you seem
abnormally normal to me!
Bono. I'm constantly battling my egotism. Artists are fundamentally
egotistical people, and I'm no exception to that rule. In our
profession, you get obsessed by your own self pretty fast. Celebrity
is ridiculous, but I realize that it's good currency. I'm happy to
use mine for good reasons. Let's just say that over time I've
developed good ways to manage the rage inside me.
PM. Is it rage that makes you do what you do?
Bono. I have a lot of anger in me. What I was young that rage could
turn into violence fast. It still happens to me sometimes - I lose
control - and it costs me a fortune, I might add. I've got a whole
lot of tolerance, but don't push me too far. [bursts out laughing]
PM. You're also Africa's greatest advocate, and you could content
yourself with giving money, signing a petition. Why did you launch
into a battle like this?
Bono. I can't stand injustice. There's an emergency in the world. It
is completely unacceptable that in Europe and America we have drugs
that cost almost nothing to make, and there are hundreds of thousands
of children and parents who die every day because we aren't sharing
those drugs. That says a lot about human nature. It's obscene.
History will judge us harshly, and so will our children, and God even
more. We're present for a new Holocaust and we don't even budge.
A continent is in flames, and we're standing on the side of the
road, like idiots, with a glass of water in our hands to put out the
fire. An American congressman, who was in Auschwitz, recently told me
that in the nightmares he had afterwards, what he saw wasn't the time
he spent in the camp, but the faces of people who watched the Jews
leave without a murmur, without even trying to find out where they
were going. You and me, we know where these children are going.
Nowhere. They're just going to die.
I'm going to take my daughters Jordan (14) and Eve (12) to Africa
very soon. My sons, who are 4 and 2, are still too young. But I want
to shape them, gently, to be aware of the world. For the moment, I
want my daughters to see how the Devil has done his best work. As my
friend Bob Geldof says, AIDS is a medical problem, but people are
dying because of a political problem.
PM. Do you remember the exact moment you said : I've got to do
Bono. In 1984 (sic) U2 took part in Live Aid which raised 200
million dollars for the Ethiopian famine. I thought that was
extraordinary, until they explained to me that the 3rd world spent
that much every month in debt payments to rich countries. I was
stunned. After [Live Aid] I spent a month with my wife working in
refugee camps in Ethiopia. I saw with my own eyes for the first time
the ravages of famine and I've never gotten over it. I promised
myself that one day I'd find a way to do something. I'm not a
hippie, unlike what people think ; I come from the streets. When I
get an idea in my head, I won't let go of it until I've seen it
through. As we say in rock and roll, "I close a deal."
PM: You have no doubts ?
Bono: Yes ! I doubt myself, all the time ! But I never doubt what I
want to do. We were 15 years old when we started our band out in the
middle of nowhere in the north of Ireland. When I would say "One day
we'll be as big as the Beatles or the Who," everyone made fun of me.
My imagination has no limits. When I got the idea that we couldn't
start this new century without getting 3rd world debt cancelled, I
just couldn't see what was supposed to be so extraordinary about
PM: You're either crazy, or unthinking, or maybe even both. When it
comes down to it, you think nothing's impossible…
Bono. Nothing! But at the same time I'm a real pragmatist. Luckily
I see fewer obstacles than most people do. It must come from my
myopic personality. If I thought about the problems I'll have to
confront in the future, I'd be paralyzed. It's my innocence that
saves me. A while ago at an exposition, I happened by chance on a
photo of me taken when I was just starting out. I was struck by the
_expression on my face: I was open, totally trusting.
PM. What would you say to that young man now?
Bono: I'd tell him he's right. I refuse mistrust. There's something
very powerful in innocence. At one point, like everybody, I wanted to
get rid of that innocence, so I tried every possible experience. It
took me a very long time to recognize that in fact it was where my
PM. From leaders to famous economists, you're best friends with the
world's greats. Does it ever happen, when you're face to face with
one of them, that you think, "What on earth am I doing? I'm not up
Bono. I don't go see these people in my name, I just represent the
voice of those without one. I go to bed every night with reports from
the World Bank. Believe me, I know my stuff. No President, French or
American, has ever intimidated me. Far from it, they're the ones who
should be intimidated! [laughs, then turns serious] It's the people
in power who one day, will have to give an account. I can read it in
their eyes, some of them, the first time they see me. "Who's this
weirdo, where's this guy from anyway ?" Being an exotic animal is
an advantage; they give you access -- until they regret it. The
most important thing is looking them in the eye.
PM. You don't speak just for Ireland or Africa, but in the name of
humanity. Don't you ever think that for most politicians, their own
political survival is more important than the survival of humanity?
Bono. Sure I've noticed that. All the time. That's why politicians
advance their ideas with so much more passion in private. But it's
not stopping me.
PM. Artists are more powerful than presidents these days. Will they
be the next politicians?
Bono: Art and politics go hand in hand in Ireland, a country that's
been run by poets, madmen, and alcoholics. I'm a free man and I plan
on staying that way, because I want to be able to say what I like.
PM. At the G8 in Evian, Jacques Chirac announced that the French
would triple their contribution to the Global Fund. Did he keep his
Bono. I think he will keep them. I believe him to be a very
stubborn man, who must be tough to budge if he doesn't want to do
something. But I got the sense he was really sincerely concerned
about the topic of AIDS in Africa. He'll do it if only for his
PM. Everything's been said and written about AIDS already. How can
you still find persuasive words?
Bono. The most powerful argument is to say "what's going to happen if
you don't come to the aid of all these people? How are you going to
live with it personally? What will happen when a third of the world
scorns you? The chance to provide AIDS drugs can do a lot for us
politically. We can change the opinion people have of us. Think about
PM. You have faith. How do you know God exists?
Bono. The Bible is my bedside reading. That said, I've always
thought the important thing was not to know if I believe in God or
not, but to know if God believes in me. I take my kids to Mass, but
when it's too boring, I'm embarrassed, because I don't want them to
think going to sleep in church is the normal thing. One day, one of
the priests talked about football in his sermon and I saw stars in
PM. Everyone knows who you are, but when you come down to it people
know very little about you. What would they be surprised to learn?
Bono. Only people who know my music well really know who I am. I
say it all in my songs. I'm well known, but I'm not a celebrity and I
have no investment at all in becoming one. The paparazzi aren't
interested in me because my life is completely banal.
PM. Where does the rosary you wear around your neck come from?
Bono. The Pope gave it to me on my last visit. As a trade, I gave
him my sunglasses.