Saturday, October 20, 2007

Live Aid and false memory syndrome

I see that Freeview have compiled a list of people's most memorable TV moments.
The collapse of the twin towers comes top, ahead of the moon landings and Diana's funeral. At number five is Bob Geldof asking people to "give us your fucking money" during Live Aid.
It really is remarkable that this event looms so large in people's memories because it never happened. I know because I was there. Let me take this opportunity to place on record the true facts.
Geldof wanted Live Aid to be a fundraiser. The BBC didn't. There were details of how you could give money. You could send it by post, you could pay at a Post Office or you could ring up and pledge a donation. The captions came up in that order: address, PO details, phone number.
I was anchoring that part of the broadcast, up in the boiling hot perspex box in the roof of Wembley, and, following one of Geldof's finger-pointing rants, went to the appeals procedure.
"Here's the address," I said.
"Fuck the address," he said. That was quite a moment.
I've never looked at a tape of that incident since the day but I was amazed to watch the "give us your fucking money" myth blossom. People who had watched it told me with great certainty what had happened, as did people who hadn't.
When Mark Ellen was preparing a 20th anniversary piece for Word he spent a day going through a tape of the whole thing. I asked him to let me know what Geldof had actually said.
"Fuck the address," he reported back.
I was relieved that it was the world that was deluding itself and not me.
I was thinking about this this week when weatherman Michael Fish was on BBC News24 explaining the real story of his notorious hurricane forecast. It turns out that the hurricane he was referring to was a tropical cyclone in the West Atlantic. He told his story but you could tell from the expression on the interviewers face that they weren't remotely interested in the disappointing truth.
Every time I read somebody's memoirs or hear about somebody giving evidence in a courtroom about events that took place many years earlier, my thoughts turn to Live Aid and the things we are capable of "remembering".


  1. I'm pretty sure that the reason for this is Harry Enfield's Geldof impression.

  2. Anonymous4:42 pm

    Interesting about the hurricane. I used to work with a man who said it was his mum who phoned. He had told her that looking at the UK weather charts (he was doing something at uni connected to weather) he thought a hurricane was coming towards the UK, not the West Atlantic. Memory a little blank here, but I think they had a caravan or something similar. She wanted reassurance from the BBC.

    Anyway, the point is that if my old colleague is to be believed its Mr Fish who has the sloppy memory.

  3. Michael Fish has blamed everyone from Bill Giles to striking French meteorologists for his faux pas.

  4. Anonymous8:42 am

    I seem to remember after Geldof's swearing a little old lady phoned in to say "There's no need to swear we're all trying our best to get through and make a donation".

    Or is my memory also faulty?

  5. I've always liked the fact that Ian Astbury of The Cult, in all his Goth finery, was with you when Geldof made his bad word.

    Wasn't he?

  6. Anonymous10:15 pm

    I have lost numerous arguments over the past 20 years protesting that it was "fuck the address" and not "give us ...". On each occasion I was outnumbered by beery know-alls (these debates almost always happen in pubs) who "saw it with their own eyes".

    While history fades the memory on some things, I'll never forget that the BBC allowed you to talk over the Pat Metheny/ Carlos Santana set. How could you! ;-)

  7. You sound mostly upset that Geldof dismissed you when you gave the address.

  8. I wasn't aware of anyone claiming it was "Give us your fucking money". I always remember it as "Fuck the addresses" and something like "These people aren't here for the good of their health, they're here for the good of someone else's health".