Geldof was born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin.
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Geldof's father, Robert, was also known as Bob. At the age of 41 Geldof's mother complained of a headache and died shortly thereafter, having suffered a haemorrhage.
Geldof attended Blackrock College, near Dublin, a school whose staunch Catholic nationalist ethos he disliked. After work as a slaughter man, road navvy and pea canner, he started as a music journalist in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, for the weekly publication Georgia Straight. Upon returning to Ireland in 1975, he became the lead singer of the band The Boomtown Rats, a rock group closely linked with the punk movement.
In the year of 1978, The Boomtown Rats had their first No. 1 single in the UK with "Rat Trap", which was the first New Wave chart-topper in that country. In 1979, the group shot to international fame with their second UK No. 1, "I Don't Like Mondays". This was equally successful, as well as controversial; Geldof wrote it in the aftermath of Brenda Ann Spencer's attempted massacre at an elementary school across the street from her house in San Diego, California, at the beginning of 1979.
Geldof quickly became known as a colourful spokesman for rock music. The Boomtown Rats' first appearance on Ireland's The Late Late Show led to complaints from viewers. He had limited success as an actor, his most notable role being the lead in the 1982 film Pink Floyd The Wall, based on Pink Floyd's album The Wall.
Geldof's first major charity involvement took place in September 1981, when he performed as a solo artist for Amnesty International's benefit show The Secret Policeman's Other Ball, at the invitation of Amnesty show producer Martin Lewis; he performed a solo version of "I Don't Like Mondays". Other rock artists performing at the show included Sting, Eric Clapton and Phil Collins. These people were later called on for Band Aid and Live Aid (in 1985), a show co-organized by Geldof. Geldof sang backing vocals on the all-star version of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released", alongside another musician he met at the show - Ultravox singer Midge Ure. The show, and its spin-off albums and movies, raised considerable sums of money for Amnesty, and raised public consciousness about human rights. Geldof was proud of his small involvement in the benefit - and noted the impact that a group of rock musicians assembled by one person could have on a cause. Another future Geldof associate, U2 singer Bono, noted of the 1981 Amnesty show in 1986 that it had 'planted a seed' and appeared to have affected Geldof in a similar manner.
In 1984, Geldof reacted to a news report about starving children in Ethiopia by going through his phone book and mobilising the pop world to do Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, Andy Taylor, John Taylor, Roger Taylor (Duran Duran); Paul Young; Glenn Gregory, Martyn Ware (Heaven 17); Siobhan Fahey, Sarah Dallin, Keren Woodward (Bananarama); Paul Weller; Robert Bell, Dennis Thomas, James Taylor (Kool and the Gang); Peter Blake (designer of the record cover); George Michael; Marilyn; Jody Watley; Boy George, Jon Moss (Culture Club); Sting; Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi (Status Quo).
In its first week of release the single became the UK's fastest seller of all time, entering the chart at number one and going on to sell over three million copies, making it the biggest-selling single in UK history up to that point, a title it held for almost 13 years. The single was also a major US hit, even though Christmas was long gone by the time it could be released in the States. 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' returned to the UK chart a year later, reaching number three, and eventually it raised over £8 million.
Following this massive success (the single reached number one in the charts) preparations were started for the biggest rock concerts the world had ever seen, the following summer.
As Geldof began to learn more about the situation, he discovered that one of the main reasons why African nations were in such dire peril was because of repayments on loans that their countries had taken from Western banks. For every pound donated in aid, ten times as much would have to leave the country in loan repayments. It became obvious that one song was not enough.
On 13 July 1985, Geldof and Ure organized Live Aid, a mammoth event staged simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. Thanks to an unprecedented decision by the BBC to clear its schedules for 16 hours of rock music, the event was also broadcast live in the UK on television and radio.
It was the most monumental stage show in history with Phil Collins flying on Concorde so that he could play at both Wembley and Philadelphia on the same day.
During the broadcast of Live Aid, Geldof shocked viewers into giving cash by slamming his fist on the table and practically ordering them not to go out to the pub, but to stay in and watch the show. The harrowing video of dying, skeletal children that had been made to the tune of "Drive" by The Cars, contributed to the concert's success.
In total, Live Aid raised over $100 million for famine relief. Geldof was subsequently knighted, at age 34, for his efforts. His autobiography, written soon after with Paul Vallely, was entitled Is That It?.
Much of the money raised by Live Aid went to NGOs in Ethiopia, some of which were under the influence or control of the Derg military junta. Some journalists have suggested that the Derg was able to use Live Aid and Oxfam money to fund its enforced resettlement and "villagification" programmes, under which at least 3 million people are said to have been displaced and between 50,000 and 100,000 killed