Live Aid: four decades on

Live Aid: four decades on

Tuesday, 29th August 2023
Live Aid (Credit: BBC)
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Thirty-eight years ago, BBC music broadcaster Richard Skinner introduced one of TV’s biggest-ever live events: “It’s 12:00 noon in London, 7:00am in Philadelphia… and around the world, it’s time for Live Aid.”

The benefit concert to raise money for the victims of famine in Ethiopia drew an estimated 1.5 billion television viewers worldwide.

Music promoter Harvey Goldsmith – who orchestrated Live Aid’s Wembley concert and, two decades later, the Live 8 benefit concerts – talked about his career with lawyer and broadcaster Andrew Eborn for an RTS London online event in July.

In the wake of Michael Buerk’s harrowing reports for the BBC from Ethiopia and the consequent Band Aid record, Do They Know It’s Christmas?, Bob Geldof asked Goldsmith to stage a charity concert at Wembley Stadium. The promoter had just 10 and a half weeks to organise it.

Channel 4 offered two hours of coverage, recalled Goldsmith, which neither he nor Geldof felt was sufficient. They wanted to televise the whole concert, plus the US version in Philadelphia, a total of 16 hours of television.

Goldsmith approached Mike Appleton, producer of BBC Two music show The Old Grey Whistle Test. A few meetings later and BBC One Controller Michael Grade decided to “clear the schedule – and from that point onwards we had a show”.

Live Aid was announced with only Geldof’s band, The Boomtown Rats, and Ultravox signed up. At a press conference, recalled Goldsmith, “Bob got up… and rattled off a list of names – I was kicking his shins and saying, ‘Shut up’, [but] one by one, most of them fell into place.”

Looking back, Goldsmith said: “Showbiz changed as a result of [Live Aid] because the media figured out that music sold newspapers… the cult of celebrity came out of that. TV was quite proud of itself because it realised it could raise a lot of money, so out of that came Children in Need and [other telethons].”

Live 8 in 2005 was “completely different”, said Goldsmith. “People were determined to put Africa on the agenda of the G8 [world leaders’] conference [in Scotland]. The pressure came from Bono, Madonna and Elton…. We put enough pressure on and they did it with Gordon Brown and Tony Blair [to the fore].”

Live 8 was easier to organise, he said. Ten concerts were held, largely simultaneously, worldwide. “All the countries were great, the governments got it, everybody got it, except the parks and the police – they tried to shut us down.”