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What the ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ celebrities have said about the Eighties classic

What the ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ celebrities have said about the Eighties classic

The festive 1984 hit “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” can usually be found on every yuletide playlist in December, despite its almost blindingly depressing lyrics.

Nearly everyone knows the story behind the song. Band Aid, an amalgamation of the biggest stars of the 1980s, was formed by Sir Bob Geldof and Ultravox frontman Midge Ure, who gathered everyone together to record the song in London to raise money for the famine in Ethiopia.

To this day, the song has raised £200m, which is well above the initial £70,000 target set by Geldof. It was so successful, in fact, that Geldof has returned to the studio several times over the following 38 years. In total, there are four versions of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”.

With the combination of lyrics by Geldof and Ure and the voices of arguably the best singers of a generation, the 1984 song was a hit. The video that went alongside it – a behind-the-scenes look at the recording studio on the day the song was produced – shows each singer take to the microphone to record their line.

A group of 37 of the music industry’s biggest names made their way down to the Notting Hill Sarm West studio to record the song. Over the years, they have looked back at the experience and recounted their memories of the day that birthed “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”.

Bono, George Michael, Martin Kemp, Ure, and Geldof have all had their say on the song, which, at the time, became the fastest-selling single in UK chart history.

Bono

While his line might be the roaring crescendo of the track, Bono originally refused to sing the lyric “Tonight, thank God, it’s them instead of you”.

Adam Clayton and Bono (Getty Images)
Adam Clayton and Bono (Getty Images)

“I told [Geldof] I didn’t want to sing the line,” the U2 frontman recounted in the band’s 2006 memoir.

“[Geldof] said, ‘This is not about what you want, OK? This is about what these people need.’ I was too young to say, ‘This is about what you want.’”

Ultimately, Bono decided that it was Geldof’s show and he was just “happy to be in it”. The line was later sung by Justin Hawkins from The Darkness when Band Aid did the 2004 re-record of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

However, shortly afterwards Hawkins alleged that Bono’s team were unhappy with someone else singing the lyric.

“We both recorded the same line, I did it better than him,” Hawkins told The Mirror. “But his management kicked up a stink and he is going to do it again today.”

Martin Kemp

Spandau Ballet’s Martin Kemp revealed that Band Aid was not his “finest hour”.

At the time, the public rivalry between Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran was at its height. However, behind closed doors, the members of the two groups were friends.

Both groups were in Germany when they found out they had been asked to record for “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”. Duran Duran had hired a Learjet to fly them back to Heathrow, and, determined not to be outdone, Spandau Ballet decided they would also travel in style.

Recalling the day, Kemp told The Mail on Sunday: “So what did we do? We hired a Learjet, too. We weren’t going to let those bouffant pretty-boys upstage us. We would race them back!”

From there, they rolled up to the Sarm West studio in the biggest Bentley they could find.

“We would look like kings and steal every last bit of limelight from those Brummie chancers, Duran Duran.”

However, the other celebrities decided to make their arrivals more low-key, with some even taking the tube.

“Now here comes Spandau Ballet, arriving to help the starving children of Ethiopia in a luxury car, having just raced Learjets across the Channel,” Kemp said.

The embarrassment for Spandau Ballet was only heightened when one band member, who Kemp decided not to name, was asked if he had a message for the people of Ethiopia. His response?

“’Yeah, I’d like to say hi, and sorry we haven’t been able to get down there on tour this year, but we’re hoping to fit it in soon.”

Kemp summarised the entire day succinctly with: “It wasn’t our finest hour.”

Bob Geldof and Midge Ure (Getty Images)
Bob Geldof and Midge Ure (Getty Images)

George Michael

George Michael, who was still part of Wham! at the time, nearly came to blows with fellow artist Paul Weller during the Band Aid recording.

In the 2011 book I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, Michael looked back at the day at the Sarm West studio.

“The musicians in England had been slagging each off all year, and everyone kind of forgot about it for the day.

“The only person who didn’t succumb to the charitable nature of the day was Paul Weller, who decided to have a go at me in front of everybody.”

The “Faith” singer said he told Weller: “Don’t be a w***** all your life. Have a day off.”

These were not Michael’s only thoughts on the day. In fact, Kemp revealed that Michael was not a fan of the song’s lyrics at first.

“He didn’t like the words that Bob and Midge had written for the song. He thought they were too down,” Kemp told Greatest Hits Radio in December 2021.

“It was only later after we recorded it and listened to it that he really appreciated that. Listen, it takes a big man to accept it sometimes.”

Midge Ure

Midge Ure, who co-wrote the song with Bob Geldof, dubbed the song “meh” 30 years later.

In 2014, the Ultravox frontman told Yahoo!: “I’ve been misquoted many times as saying it’s the worst song I’ve ever written, and it’s certainly not — I’ve written much worse! — but as a song, it’s OK.”

However, Ure has always been attuned to the song’s impact, saying that “as a record, it is exceptional, as a moment in time, it’s phenomenal”.

“But as a song, meh,” he continued. “It’s no ‘White Christmas’”.

Bob Geldof

Geldof, the mastermind behind Band Aid, explained that “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” drives him “f***ing mad”.

"The song has a life of its own. It raises money every time it’s played in every f***ing supermarket,” he told Radio Times in October 2022.

"It’s Mistletoe and Wine at vegetables, Slade at baked beans, Wizzard for tea and coffee and Band Aid at the butcher’s counter. I mean… It drives me f***ing mad at Christmas. But there it is.”

However, he has also been a fierce defender of the song, particularly when the 2014 version, “Band Aid 30”, received backlash. Featuring artists such as Ed Sheeran, One Direction, Chris Martin, and Olly Murs, the song included a new chorus that replaced the famous “feed the world” chorus. The new lyrics “heal the world” addressed the Ebola epidemic, which was most prevalent during 2013-2016.

One Ebola survivor dubbed the lyrics “cringe-worthy”, to which Geldof replied via The Telegraph: “Please, it’s a pop song. Relax… It’s not a doctoral thesis. They can f*** off.”