The Constant Charmer

The inside story of how the world's biggest rock star mastered the political game and persuaded the world's leaders to take on global poverty. And he's not done yet

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Bono's great gift is to take what has made him famous--charm, clarity of voice, an ability to touch people in their secret heart--combine those traits with a keen grasp of the political game and obsessive attention to detail, and channel it all toward getting everyone, from world leaders to music lovers, to engage with something overwhelming in its complexity. Although it's tempting for some to cast his global road show as the vanity project of a pampered celebrity, the fact is that Bono gets results. At Gleneagles--where Bono and his policy-and-advocacy body, DATA, met with five of the eight heads of state at the summit--the G-8 approved an unprecedented $50 billion aid package--including $25 billion for Africa--and pledged near universal access to antiretroviral drugs for almost 10 million impoverished people with HIV.

Bono technically didn't achieve any of those things on his own, "but it's hard to imagine much of it would have been done without him," says Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. Although politicians, academics and activists continue to differ over the best way to tackle poverty and disease in the developing world, Bono's contribution has been to forge, over the past decade, a surprisingly durable consensus on the need to do something. "The only thing that balances how preposterous it is to have to listen to an Irish rock star talk about these subjects," says Bono, "is the weight of the subjects themselves."

Ballast is not an attribute commonly attributed to pop stars. Bono, 45, spends his evenings lifting people to their feet, but offstage, he can be almost aggressively grounded. One morning a few days before the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death, Bono stands on the balcony of his New York City apartment overlooking Central Park. "You know what my least favorite John Lennon song is?" he says. "Imagine. At the root of it is some rigorous thinking about the way things could be, but people have stolen the idea and made it an anthem for wishful thinking. I'm against wishful thinking. I hate it."

Bono is prone to large pronouncements, but a significant part of his charisma stems from the fact that it isn't intimidating. There are rock stars who enter a room with the kind of sex display the Discovery Channel saves for sweeps weeks, but Bono is not one of them. He's handsome but short--5 ft. 7 in. in thick-soled shoes--and swings his arms wide when he walks, so he looks open and soft, like a pillow in a cowboy hat. It's not at all what people expect, and it sets them at ease.

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