Having turned Britain from a bickering, introverted island into a land of love and charity, "Saint Bob" Geldof heads to the United States next week to tell its government to stop niggling about who is worthy to receive aid in Africa and "just give these people food so they can live."
And for good measure, says the prime mover behind last Saturday's Live Aid concert for African famine relief, he wants the U.S. government to provide helicopters to carry the food to Sudan and Ethiopia, where seasonal rains have washed out roads.
As for the European Economic Community, Geldof says, it should just get off its collective buns and fix the bloody Sudanese railroad so the food trains can get on with it.
Part of Geldof's charm is that he minces neither words nor actions. The Irish-born punk rocker's band, the Boomtown Rats, is remembered mainly for bringing live rats onto the concert stage, feeding them raw liver during performances and then releasing them into the audience at show's end.
The Rats have not had a hit since 1981, and barely a year ago, Geldof was considered a musical has-been, a long-gone blip on the moving screen of punk outrage.
Yet today, at age 32, he is cited by Margaret Thatcher, among others, as an example to his generation, and has been nominated by several European parliamentarians for the Nobel Peace Prize. Tuesday night, he and his companion Paula Yates spent an informal evening listening to Bach and Handel at Buckingham Palace with Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
This afternoon, the man who said "the halls of academia have never loomed large for me" was awarded an honorary master of arts degree from the University of Kent, alongside former prime minister Edward Heath and a gowned and mortar-boarded cast of thousands.
"Saint Bob," as he is known in the popular press, wore a green suit, and yellow and black shoes, with tousled hair to his shoulders and his customary several-days-old beard.
Perhaps more than any other Briton, Geldof in the past several months has managed to unite this nation long divided between rich and poor, north and south, Labor and Tory. He has, unquestionably, made Britain feel good about itself. And, as one rock commentator here noted, Geldof now is "probably polished off as a rock star. He can't be a symbol of youthful alienation and be sending food to Africa. From now on, he's the guy who organized Live Aid."
For 16 straight hours here from Saturday afternoon until 4 a.m. Sunday, more than half the country watched the live performance, beamed around the world from Philadelphia and London's Wembley Stadium, of scores of rock stars and groups donating their time and talents for the famine fund. The British audience of 30 million, the BBC announced today, was the largest it has ever had for a single broadcast.
"More," Geldof noted today, "than watched the royal wedding."
Worldwide receipts from the concert now total more than $45 million. In Britain alone, where local banks, post offices and savings and loan institutions are collecting money on behalf of the Live Aid fund, donations are approaching $19 million with three weeks of appeal still to run.
Live Aid began last year as Band Aid, when Geldof organized a group of British rock performers to record a record -- "Do They Know It's Christmas?" -- to be sold for famine relief funds. That successful effort was copied in the United States with the recording of "We Are the World" by American artists.
Then came the Live Aid concert. This week, Geldof's organizing group is discussing something called Fashion Aid -- a fashion show bringing together the world's top contemporary designers for famine relief.
Impending sainthood, however, does not seem to have gone to Geldof's head. His exhortations for more donations are coupled with level-eyed pledges that "we will ensure 200 percent that every penny . . . will go to somebody who's dying. I am guaranteeing it. Absolutely."
To those who question whether a bunch of punkers know what to do with the money, Geldof says "we've been going for six months, and we have an available pool of expertise. And if we don't know the answer to the question, we simply go to people who have dealt with this problem, and say, 'can you put together a feasibility study for us for free?' And that happens. Or we go to the agencies in the field and say, 'look, we want to supply you with trucks. What do your trucking people say?' And that's what we do."
This week, Live Aid bought 60 trucks to transport food in Ethiopia and Sudan and is negotiating for 94 more. Arrangements were made to ship tons of donated medical supplies to Mozambique. Arrangements were made to hire agronomists, hydrologists and foresters to address some of Africa's longterm food production problems.
In his speech today at the University of Kent, Geldof extended his reach somewhat, although perhaps not his grasp. After congratulating all in the audience who gave to Live Aid, and telling those who didn't that "you should be ashamed of yourselves," Saint Bob said he hoped graduating students "don't take part in what I consider the new brutalism in this and other countries."
He lambasted "cynicism and greed and the lack of opportunity, not just in the physical tangible sense but in the closed door mentality of people's minds." He singled out the news media for particular attack, saying they "no longer inform us but scream nonsense at us on a daily basis."
A spokesman for the university said Geldof was chosen for the degree last March "in recognition of his remarkable achievement as organizer of Band Aid." Since then, the spokesman said, "Live Aid has happened, which is even more remarkable.
"Some people might be a bit stuffy about it, but the vast majority at the university think this is a very imaginative and worthwhile degree, especially the students. They are delighted."
The spokesman said Geldof had asked that the ceremony be kept low-key, pleading "this is the students' day, not mine."
But he spoke to reporters outside Canterbury Cathedral, where the ceremony was held, about his upcoming trip to the United States.
"I would like to speak to the U.S. aid people about changing the way they distribute and the conditions they impose," he said in apparent reference to remaining American restrictions on aid to Ethiopia's Marxist government. "I thought the purpose of aid was to keep people alive. I am afraid there are a few people who don't think that, and they are the ones who have the purse strings and the keys to the barn doors."