On this day 30 years ago, I was sitting in my parents’ front room waiting for The Greatest Gig of All Time to begin. Only back then, it wasn’t clear that this was going to be quite such a momentous event. With my rock journo cynicism, I had doubted whether Bob Geldof could pull it off, so had decided to send another member of the Record Mirror staff to Wembley.
It turned out to be one of my biggest regrets. I can never say “I Was There”. I wasn’t. I watched it all unfold on TV like everyone else. It could have been so different… This is how I remember it in my (still unpublished) memoir, Hit Girl:
July 13, 1985. Blisteringly hot day. Wembley Stadium: 70,000 people. Live Aid began and Betty Page wasn’t even there. As soon as I sat in front of the TV to watch the global jukebox – the only way to make sure I didn’t miss a trick, I thought – I began to feel one step removed from the excitement. No privileged backstage access for me – I was reduced to the level of a fan. The shame of it!
I should have been there, been a part of it all – these were my people, my peers, making history – and here I was, back in bloody suburbia.
“This is how it must have felt at Woodstock,” I mused, wishing I was that sweat-drenched girl in the front row.
To try and make amends, I vowed to watch the entire broadcast from London beginning to Philadelphia end, forcing donations from every member of my family. I’ll never forget that initial aerial shot of Wembley Stadium as we waited for the midday kick-off. No one could admit to liking Status Quo any more (that was so 1973) but when they struck up the chords to Rockin’ All Over The World they were Our Boys playing the Greatest Tune Ever.
My critical faculties were suspended as act after act emerged blinking into the sunshine to play on the biggest stage of their lives – the Style Council, Boomtown Rats, Adam Ant – all brilliant for 15 minutes; Ultravox, Spandau Ballet – praying they’d fill that stage and not panic; Elvis Costello, Nik Kershaw, Sade, Sting, Phil Collins, Howard Jones, Paul Young, Alison Moyet, and then, U2.
It’s strange to watch what you recognise as a pivotal moment on a momentous day. U2 made Live Aid their showcase. Brimming with intensity and commitment, Bono forged the group’s reputation as the one of the best stadium rock bands in the world. Queen merely underlined their pre-eminence in the field; Freddie Mercury’s larger-than-life performance was unsurpassed.
I guess it was seeing the Who (minus the late Keith Moon, of course), reunited for the first time in years (“like getting one man’s four ex-wives together,” as Geldof described it), that made me realise just how much Geldof had achieved. He was the unstoppable force who had pulled this whole thing together; no one else could have achieved it – Live Aid was his destiny.
One woman sitting in a house in south-east London could only give that one man money, and she did. I wish Live Aid had been a life-changing personal experience for me, but it wasn’t. I was a spectator, not a participant.
I wish I could have been my opposite number on a rival pop magazine, who shadowed Geldof in the days leading up to the big show, watching him pull a million strands together but still having time to watch a persistent video-maker’s tape. It would end up being the defining image of the day: the footage of starving children in Ethiopia backed by The Cars’ Drive. They both watched, open-mouthed, until Geldof said it was OK to cry.
Still, I made the most of it, being as involved as I could through the medium of television, shouting with encouragement at the screen when Geldof, exhausted but in despair because he thought the donations were not coming in, screamed, “Give us the fucking money” live on the BBC; cheering as Phil Collins was whisked off to Heathrow to catch Concorde for his second set in Philadelphia; thinking, “Those are my boys!” as first the Power Station, then Duran Duran funked for America at the height of their powers.
“Remember,” said Geldof later, “on that day, for once in our bloody lives, we won.” My team had triumphed and I should have been cheering them on.
Instead I was left with images of royalty – Charles and Diana with King Bob and Queen Paula. I’d never been so jealous of the woman, and her man was about to become a saint.
The following Monday, I helped to rush out a special edition of Record Mirror with Live Aid on the cover (they said it couldn’t be done, but it was). But the fact remained that I had missed The Greatest Gig of All Time…