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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What followed was a tour de force of syndicalism. Several NGOs in the habitually backbiting development community put aside their differences and launched integrated awareness campaigns (Make Poverty History in Britain, the ONE Campaign in the U.S.) aimed at educating people about global poverty and registering millions of supporters online. Blair announced a G-8 agenda with a goal of getting $50 billion in aid and 100% debt cancellation, and DATA lobbied the White House to be an active partner, reminding it that Blair had stood by the Administration in the past. To their surprise, they didn't have to do much pitching. Over beers with some friends from the Treasury Department, Drummond, Hart and policy director Erin Thornton actually heard the words "So, tell us why can't we do 100% debt cancellation?" Debt had been presumed a dead issue--"but all of a sudden these guys are telling us they think they've figured it out," says Hart. "We'd completely flipped roles. Very weird." There were details to iron out, and the Treasury guys insisted Bono not be told for a while (he is a poor secret keeper), but willingness proved 95% of the battle.

To cap it off, the G-8 would fall almost precisely on the 20th anniversary of Live Aid, and Bono wanted a concert to prove how far the movement had come. Bob Geldof "didn't want to repeat himself," says Bono, but six weeks before the summit he hit upon the idea of staging free concerts in each G-8 country. After a frenzy of persuasion, cities were lined up, sponsors found and bands, many of which already had concerts scheduled for the day, were persuaded to divert from their itineraries and play for free. "Charm, handsomeness and the fact that [Bono] wrote Where the Streets Have No Name goes you a long way," says Coldplay's Chris Martin, one of the headliners in London's Hyde Park.

Bono, meanwhile, launched a final burst of back-room politicking, greasing countless surreal encounters with people who had no business being in the same room together. Days before the summit, he visited 10 Downing Street and learned that the G-8's civil-servant negotiators, or "sherpas," who put deals into precise language, were feuding over how to pay for the proposed $50 billion aid package. "We were having a beer," Blair told TIME, "and just decided we would talk to these people who'd done an incredible amount of work, to give them a sense of the importance of this." After introducing himself, Bono asked them to "please go that bit further," reminding them that "in 20 years, this week is one of the things you'll be most proud of in your lives." Says Blair: "These are all pretty hard-bitten people who have worked in international relations a long time, but they were very, very enthused by that spirit."

Just before the end of the summit--which was disrupted by the July 7 terrorist attacks in London--Bono dropped by President Bush's suite for a final nudge. "On so many issues it's difficult to know what God wants from us," Bono told Bush, "but on this issue, helping the desperately poor, we know God will bless it."

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