Live Aid Rocks Forty Years On

Give us the fucking money!

Bob Geldof denied he ever said this! 

Craige Els as Bob Geldof and Company. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Live Aid in 1985 was one of those moments of “Where were you when this happened?” I have to admit that I was one of the 72,000 people at the Wembley Stadium, but not at the companion concert in Philadelphia later that day with a crowd of 90,000. These were extraordinary events which I can think of no current comparison.

Bob Geldof (Craige Els), with no particular history of philanthropy, saw a news item the previous year about the 32 million starving children, women and men in Ethiopia and decided to act.  He was the lead singer of an Irish band, the Boomtown Rats who had a couple of hits. However, he soon showed his will and determination to get things done, and certainly wasn’t that bothered about how he went about it.

He teamed up with Midge Ure (Jack Shalloo), lead singer in the band Ultravox and wrote the song “Do they know it’s Christmas?” about the starving people in Ethiopia. Rather than just sing it themselves Geldof rang all of the musicians he knew, telling them that others had agreed even though he hadn’t spoken to them, asking them to take part in the recording.

Tamara Tare as Alicia and Olly Dobson as John and Company (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

The “group” was called Band Aid a video was made and it went viral, it captured the imagination of the public who supported its message in droves. In America this caught on and they too made a record which also sold millions.

After this success and a harrowing visit to the camps in Ethiopia where children died in droves due to malnutrition, Geldof thought about what he could do next. Again, using the tactic of creating the herd instinct he was able to bring some of the most well-known artists and bands to play for free at the Wembley Arena. He knew how to persuade, cajole and bend the truth to achieve his aims.

One of his most notable successes was taking on the hard line Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and persuading her to agree to refund through, a “special grant”, the VAT that had been collected on all of the sales. His ace card was to threaten to get everyone who bought the Band Aid record to vote against the Tories in the upcoming election. Plans for the entire concert were put together in just over five weeks before the July date.

Abiona Omonua as Amara and Craige Else as Bob and Company (Photo: M<anuelHarlan)

To give some of this perspective, in 1985 mobile phones had only recently been invented, they could not send texts and taking photos would not come to the end of the century.  We did have Concorde used by Phil Collins to appear at both concerts in two continents within the day.  The supersonic airliner was diverted on that day to fly over Wembley during the Live Aid concert with Phil Collins on board.

As can be expected there were hiccups, such as Paul MacCartney’s microphone not working, and a breakdown in communication with the space station where the astronauts intended to announce the next group but all were overcome. There were four TV Channels all of which covered live the eight hour concert followed by the Philadelphia gig. It was announced, during the concert by Billy Connolly that 95% of the world’s population were either watching or listening on the radio to the broadcasts.

Julie Atherton as Margaret and Company (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Looking back there may well be detractors to the whole circus but against that over £100 million was raised and spent on helping the people who had nothing but death to look forward to.

So now nearly 40 years later the musical Just for One Day has opened at the Old Vic. Directed with verve by Luke Sheppard and featuring Ebony Molina’s expressive choreography the show is a celebration of the day. The stage is simple but used well and the 6-piece band play strongly from high up at the rear.  Scenes are short well timed and advance the story, usually by extracts from the lyrics of the songs played that day, with well timed humour.

The cast are well up to the task, singing and dancing as the musical progresses. Stand outs for me were Craige Els as the believable Bob Geldof, Julie Atherton as Margaret Thatcher and Joel Montague as Harvey Goldsmith the promoter.  Again and again I was blown away by the exceptional quality of the solo singers

I suggest the test of a theatre trip is the audience’s reaction, on leaving I could only hear people expressing their enjoyment. I intend to go again before it closes on the 30th of March.

Naomi Katiyo as Jemma and Company (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Musical Numbers



Rockin’ All Over the World

Rat Trap


Dancing With Tears in my Eyes

The Damnbusters Theme

Everytime You Go Away


Every Breath You Take

Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Radio Ga Ga

Stop Your Sobbing

We Are the Champions

We Are the World

You’re the Best Thing

I’m Still Standing


Message in a Bottle

Pinball Wizard


Dancing in the Streets

Summer of ’69

Blowin’ In the Wind

Reach Out and Touch

(Somebody’s Hand)

In the Air Tonight

We Will Rock You

King of Rock


I Don’t Like Mondays

All You Need Is Love

Against All Odds

(Take a Look at Me Now)

Rebel Rebel

Don’t You (Forget About Me)

Good Vibrations

Bohemian Rhapsody

My Generation

Let It Be

Mrs T/Mr G


Production Notes

Just For One Day

Book by John O’Farrell

Choreographed by Ebony Molina

Directed by Luke Sheppard



Julie Atherton

Abiona Omonua

AJ Lewis

Ashley Campbell

Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong

Collette Guitart

Craige Els

Danielle Steers

Eddie Mann

Jack Shalloo

Jackie Clune

Joel Montague

Kerry Enright

Olly Dobson

Rachel Moran

James Hameed

Jason Battersby

Rhys Wilkinson

Emily Ooi

Naomi Katiyo

Hope Kenna

Freddie Love

Joe Edgar

Jo Foster

Tamara Tare

Dyd Wynford


Director: Luke Sheppard

Choreographer: Ebony Molina

Set Designer: Sutra Gilmour

Costume Designer: Faye Fullerton

Musical Supervisor and Arranger: Matthew Brand

Lighting Designer:  Howard Hudson

Sound Designer: Gareth Owen

Video and Animation: Andrzej Goulding

Musical Director: Patrick Hurley



Running Time: Two hours 35 minutes including an interval

Booking until 30th March 2024



Old Vic

The Cut


London SE1 8NB

Tube/Rail : Waterloo

Telephone: 0344 871 7628


Reviewed by Malcolm Beckett

at the Old Vic

at the evening performance 

on 15th February 2024