During the early 80s, our TV screens displayed harrowing images of millions of men, women and children starving to death in the famines that engulfed Ethiopia (and for that matter, large tracts of Africa). One particularly disturbing (and award-winning) report delivered by Michael Buerk on 23rd October 1984 was seen by The Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof who put in a call to Ultravox lead singer Midge Ure.

They got together and hastily penned the charity single Do They Know It’s Christmas? In the (then) vain hope of raising some money. Geldof hoped it would raise around £70,000 but after he called almost everyone in his contacts book and talked them into recording the single under the Band Aid name, the song became the UKs fastest-selling single ever and it ended up raising over £8m.

As soon as Bob and Midge realised they had some momentum, they set their sights higher…

Working alongside legendary producer Harvey Goldsmith, the Live Aid concert on July 13th 1985 was by far and away the most ambitious multi-site international satellite venture that had ever been attempted. It was a logistical nightmare to overcome with the BBC supplying the European feed and ABC the North American feed (and having to contend with audio and video time lag, conversions from PAL to NTSC, issues with synchronisation and host broadcaster demands), but overcome them they did. The net result was arguably the greatest music concert ever staged. The simulcasts were broadcast to a worldwide audience of close to 2bn in 160+ countries.

Paul McCartney (& Friends) – Let It Be – Live Aid Wembley

The UK gig took place at Wembley Stadium in London with 72,000 in attendance and the US gig was at the John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia with over 100,000 there as the world’s biggest music acts teamed up and raised a little more than the £1m Bob Geldof envisaged. In fact, the 16 hour concert raised closer to £50m.

Bob Geldof & Friends – Do They Know It’s Christmas – Live Aid Wembley


During the concerts, as is now standard practise, television viewers were urged to donate via 300 phone lines manned by the BBC and deep into the concerts, Bob Geldof enquired as to how much had come in. When someone told him £1.2m, he stormed up to the BBC commentary position and while David Hepworth who was interviewing him attempted to give out the addresses to where people could send cheques, Geldof famously said ‘fuck the address, let’s get the numbers!’ and shouted into the camera ‘give us your fucking money’. Soon, money was coming in at over £300 per second.

The largest single donation came from the ruling family of Dubai who, after a phone call with Geldof, pledged a cool £1m.

The list of performers (some of whom performed via video link) reads like a who’s who of musical royalty –

Status Quo • Style Council • Boomtown Rats • Adam Ant • INXS • Ultravox • Loudness • Spandau Ballet • Bernard Watson • Joan Baez • Elvis Costello • The Hookers • Opus • Nik Kershaw • The Four Tops • BB King • Billy Ocean • Black Sabbath • Sade • Run DMC • Sting • Rick Springfield • Phil Collins • REO Speedwagon • Howard Jones • Autograph • Bryan Ferry • Crosby, Stills & Nash • Udo Lindenberg • Judas Priest • Paul Young • Alison Moyet • Bryan Adams • U2 • The Beach Boys • Dire Straits • George Thorogood & The Destroyers • Bo Diddley • Queen • David Bowie & Mick Jagger • Simple Minds • The Pretenders • The Who • Carlos Santana • Elton John & Kiki Dee • Wham! • Madonna • Ashford & Simpson • Paul McCartney • Tom Petty • Kenny Loggins • The Cars • Neil Young • The Power Station • The Thompson Twins • Eric Clapton • Robert Plant & Jimmy Page • Duran Duran • Patti LaBelle • Hall & Oates • Bob Dylan, Keith Richards & Ron Wood

Phil Collins performed at both Wembley and at JFK, flying from Wembley in a helicopter piloted by Noel Edmonds to Heathrow where he boarded Concorde to get him across the Atlantic. Cher was on his flight and claiming she didn’t know about the concerts, he persuaded her to take part in the ‘We Are the World’ finale. As if performing at both venues wasn’t enough, he also provided the drums for Eric Clapton as well as the reunion of the surviving members of Led Zeppelin in Philly.

Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody & Radio Ga Ga – Live Aid Wembley

Live Aid was a defining moment in our general consciousness. For a lot of us who are children of the 80s, it exposed us to what was happening on the other side of the world. We didn’t have Facebook, Twitter or 24-hour rolling news. We had two, shaggy-haired Irish rockers who thought they could make a difference.

Africa still has its fair share of problems but Live Aid left a lasting and positive legacy that was originally intended to be headline news for a few months. Thirty years later, it still involves the whole world. It was a global experience. In recent interviews, Bob Geldof still has an almost maniacal passion and as the song says, ‘we can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong’.

Live Aid embodied an upwardly mobile generation of people who for the first time collectively said, ‘we can make a difference’, and we did.