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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Today, with U2 in town for a show at Madison Square Garden, Bono has the rare treat of staying in one of his homes, a three-story penthouse he purchased from Steve Jobs. (He also has places in Dublin and the south of France.) He lounges beneath a giant Christo drawing of The Gates (not Bill and Melinda but the Central Park installation), surrounded by art books. It's a lovely day to do nothing, but that's not really an option."I get very little time entirely alone," he says, moments before six people appear in the living room with videoconferencing equipment to discuss a soon-to-be-announced consumer campaign for African development. Tom Lantos, a Democratic Representative from California, swings by with his granddaughter. Bono and Lantos are close enough that the Congressman, a Holocaust survivor, has encouraged Bono to reference worldwide indifference to the genocide when describing governments' apathetic response to the spread of AIDS across Africa. "I am very sensitive to people abusing the analogy," says Lantos. "He's convinced me it's legitimate."

More than two decades since Bono entered the world stage as a mullet-haired front man, he commands attention like no other cultural figure alive. When he visits Capitol Hill, his movement through the halls is split-timed. His lobbyists feed him tips so he knows, for instance, that Kentucky's Mitch McConnell has a thing for Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who inspired U2's song Walk On. The rest is intuitive. Bono arrives with no security, takes gifts (a leather-bound volume of Seamus Heaney for Patrick Leahy, a framed copy of the Marshall Plan speech for Colin Powell) to suit his host's taste. He poses for every staff picture, and his thank-you notes are handwritten and prompt. He wears whatever he pleases. "I refuse to be anything other than what I am," he says. "I literally get into the clothes at the end of the bed. If somebody doesn't take them off and wash them, things would probably get a bit high."

Twenty years ago, the notion of Bono as a political player was almost unimaginable. In 1985, U2 played Live Aid, the Bob Geldof-- organized concert for African famine relief. At the time, it was hailed as a massive success, and in the sense that it got people to briefly engage with another part of the world while watching Tina Turner dance with Mick Jagger, it was. After the concert, Bono and his wife Ali Hewson spent six weeks working at an orphanage in Wello, Ethiopia. The weight of famine, war and corruption--as well as the resentment many capable Africans feel toward uninformed foreigners with messiah complexes--overwhelmed him. As did the foolishness of thinking a day of singing was enough. But U2 was on its way to becoming the biggest band in the world, and Bono stuffed a deeper engagement with Africa into the warehouse of good intentions.

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