Bono is an egomaniac. He knows this and frequently apologizes for it. When he disobeys the instructions of his manager, he scolds himself--"Naughty pop star"--which allows him to comment on the ridiculousness of pop stardom while reminding himself that he is indeed a pop star. He would be a megalomaniac if his preoccupation with power were delusional, but it's not. Less than a month ago, at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, he sat on a dais with Bill Gates and discussed ways to save a continent; two days later he sang for a TV audience of 130 million at the Super Bowl half-time show. Not a bad week. Can you blame the guy for being a little full of himself?
With the merest twitch of his head, Bono can command the undivided attention of a sold-out stadium. But when he works a smaller room, his charisma acclimatizes itself; he turns smooth, dexterous. Late one night, during the forum in New York City, a dozen officials from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Episcopal Church, MTV and DATA (Debt, Aid, Trade for Africa) gathered for a strategy session in the back room of a Manhattan restaurant. The group was brainstorming on ways to convince Americans that saving Africa from financial ruin is in America's best interest. As is frequently the case with debate on Africa, the discussion eventually sagged into weary frustration. By midnight, the air had leaked out of the room and, with it, any glimmer of productivity.
Then U2's singer Bono strolled in.
Wearing a black leather jacket, his trademark blue-tinted shades and a roguish smile, he glided around the table, shaking hands and kissing cheeks. Like Superman turning into Clark Kent, the earnest political operative took over. Before the shy types could mumble about a brief previous encounter, he set them at ease, reciting their names and the circumstances of their last meeting: "Of course! The forum in Boston!" With his glad-handing complete, Bono--founder, spokesman and chief benefactor of DATA, a nonprofit, debt-relief advocacy group--sat down at the edge of the table and, at 1 a.m., recounted the details of his early-morning session with 30 G.O.P. Congressmen. "I am not willing to give up on the Republicans," he said of his efforts to convert the Congressmen on debt relief and increased aid to Africa. "They're tough, but they're willing to listen."
With the energy in the room reignited, Bono the rock god disappeared. As the ideas flowed, he nodded along quietly, just another wonk occasionally spitting out acronyms. This lasted for the better part of an hour until Trevor Neilson, director of special projects for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, complained, "Look, we have to give away, by IRS law, $1.2 billion a year."
"Trevor," said Bono, reinflating himself to pop-star proportions to better deliver his punch line, "we can help."