Shortcuts: Rock star, envoy, venture capitalist

Oliver Burkeman: It has probably not escaped your notice that Bono is a man on a mission.

It has probably not escaped your notice that Bono is a man on a mission. The best-known part of this, of course, involves saving humanity, but even a saviour of the human race needs a hinterland. Hence the second part - "creating significant opportunities for sophisticated investors". This rather more conventional, suit-and-tie-wearing ambition is revealed in the mission statement of Elevation Partners, a venture capital company co-founded last year by the U2 frontman.

This week, Elevation announced that it was bidding for Boosey & Hawkes, the 200-year-old music publisher, which is on sale for £130m. Rock megastars are supposed to make millions before they can handle it, fritter most of it away on yachts and jets and private islands, lose the rest to corrupt accountants and managers, then find solace in expensive drug problems. What does Bono think he's doing?

It is easy to see what's in it for Elevation, which plans to invest its $1.8bn in committed funds in media and entertainment firms. Bono opens doors: not all that many people are on first-name terms with George Bush and Tony Blair (although, admittedly, when your name is Bono, first-name terms are really the only viable ones). "He can ring anybody," says an old friend of the band. "Not only is he friends with [Apple founder] Steve Jobs, he's friends with Bill Gates."

As for what's in it for Bono, the exact financial benefits to the star are unclear - but he insists the motivation goes deeper than that. Elevation "is for me a chance to involve myself in the business that runs my life," he told the French journalist Michka Assayas. "I don't want to be a casualty. I don't want to be bullied by the business in the future."

Many musicians position themselves as anti-establishment outsiders, but Bono's declared belief has always been that it might be possible to change the system from the inside - much to the disdain of some figures in the rock'n'roll aristocracy. "He thinks: this is how it is. Now let's see if we can change it, instead of throwing stones at it," the friend says.

Depressingly, perhaps, for fans of rock excess and bitter squabbles over money, U2 turn out to have a history of financial savvy to induce envy in the sharpest City investor. We're not just talking about the special-edition U2 iPod, either. Early on, for example, the band purchased its own publishing company, avoiding the kind of situation in which Paul McCartney found himself, with Michael Jackson owning the publishing rights to many Beatles songs. "He thinks that if you're doing business, you should do it well," says the friend. "People in that whole culture are often either sniffy about money, or a bit flash - U2 are neither."

If this all sounds a bit corporate - well, it is. U2 are as much a company as a band. (At one point, the legend always had it, they were the second-biggest employer in Ireland after Guinness.) Thus Bono: simultaneously the chief executive of the corporate rock world, and a revolutionary committed to transforming capitalism in favour of the disadvantaged. And all without the benefit of a surname. Pull your socks up, Dido.


Oliver Burkeman

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Tim Dowling: Bono's epic tribute to Elvis - a handy guide

Tim Dowling: Verse by a poet such as the U2 front man deserves a close reading

Tim Dowling

05, May, 2009 @11:01 PM

Article image
U2's latest tour – ludicrous, expensive and a bit hypocritical
U2's tour may be rocking the planet a bit too hard

Paul Lester

29, Jul, 2009 @11:10 PM

Article image
The Script’s Danny O’Donoghue: 'People like the music, they don’t like us'
The Script singer and ex‑The Voice judge got a letter from the Queen. Is he trying to be Bono now?

Michael Cragg

04, Sep, 2014 @2:01 PM

Article image
Chasing Bono review – charming portrait of a wannabe rock star
Neil McCormick’s memoir about schoolmates-turned-rock stars is brought to raucous life

Mark Lawson

12, Dec, 2018 @6:08 PM

Article image
U2 review – primal scream therapy delivered from an arena-rock stage
O2 Arena, London
The cathartic nature of the band’s 13th studio album, Songs of Innocence, is sensitively reflected in this tour, which melds the personal and the political

Ian Gittins

26, Oct, 2015 @6:12 PM

Article image
Jill Furmanovsky's best photograph: Liam Gallagher and Bono watch Noel sing
‘Oasis were trying to crack America – but they couldn’t sustain a long tour without falling apart’

Interview by Ben Beaumont-Thomas

04, Feb, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
U2: Songs of Experience review – fantastic return to form | Alexis Petridis' album of the week
Three years in the making, U2 unveil an album full of self-awareness, gravitas and humour – and enough great moments to forgive its clumsier touches

Alexis Petridis

30, Nov, 2017 @12:00 PM

Article image
Can’t stand U2? Nor can Bono
The singer has announced that he hates the band’s name, most of their songs, and the sound of his own voice. Is this just an attempt to win new fans?

19, Jan, 2022 @2:17 PM

Article image
Bono: send Amy Schumer and Chris Rock to fight Islamic State
U2 singer reassures Senate subcommittee he is serious about using comedians to humiliate ‘goose-stepping’ Isis with the power of laughter

Guardian music

13, Apr, 2016 @8:58 AM

Article image
Glastonbury 2011: when Bono put me in the frame

What happened when the U2 singer borrowed the Guardian photographer's camera?

David Levene

26, Jun, 2011 @5:30 PM