Coldplay star tries Bonoâ€™s halo for size (20030914)
HE has shaken hands with George W Bush and the Pope and rarely misses a chance to preach about the need to write off Third World debt. But Bono, the campaigning face of U2, the Irish rock band, is facing competition from an upstart young rival: Chris Martin of Coldplay. Not content with a pair of number one albums and a high-profile romance with Gwyneth Paltrow, Martin, 26, now also appears to be trying to assume the saintly mantle of Bono, 43, and Bob Geldof, 51.
As delegates struggled last week to reach agreement at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in the Mexican resort of Cancun, Martin took time out of Coldplay’s tour of South America to demand more rights for impoverished Third World farmers.
Supachai Panitchpakdi, the WTO director-general, may have been expecting nothing more strenuous than a photo opportunity when Martin handed over a petition with 3m signatures collected by Oxfam calling for radical changes in the rules governing world trade.
Instead, Martin, who graduated from University College London with a degree in ancient history, bombarded him with detailed questions about subsidies paid to European farmers and the prohibitive tariffs imposed by America on imports of Bangladeshi cotton.
“You seem like a nice guy. Why is it so hard to get this problem sorted out?” Martin demanded at the end of the meeting, demonstrating the same mastery of the soundbite as Bono or Geldof.
Adrian Lovett, campaigns director of Oxfam GB, who joined Martin and the guitarist Jonny Buckland for the meeting, said Panitchpakdi appeared genuinely surprised at Martin’s knowledge of the matter. The bemused Thai nevertheless managed to ask the singer for an autograph for his daughter.
Three days earlier the two musicians had accompanied Oxfam workers on a visit to Puebla, a village an hour and a half’s drive from Mexico City, where local maize farmers struggle to compete with heavily subsidised American imports.
Martin, educated at Sherborne school, Dorset, has cultivated a reputation as one of the more thoughtful of the new generation of performers since Coldplay came onto the music scene in 2001 with their hit single Yellow.
Defying rock stereotypes, he rarely drinks, never smokes and shuns drugs, and is said to share a passion for macrobiotic food with Paltrow — they are rumoured to be marrying later this year.
Martin was put in touch with Oxfam two years ago by Emily Eavis, whose dairy farmer father, Michael, runs the Glastonbury Festival, and donates £50,000 a year to the charity.
A trip with Oxfam in February last year to Haiti appears to have converted him to the charity’s campaign for “fair trade”. During the visit Martin came face to face with rice growers being driven out of business by American imports.
“I felt like a fourth-rate Bono,” he said. “Later on I felt like a third-rate Bono, and hopefully it’ll escalate until I feel like a full-on Bono.”
His band have identified with the cause since: the campaign’s website address is shown on screens when they play encores, and cards explaining its aims are handed out after concerts.
Martin ’s activism is heir to a tradition that began with George Harrison’s 1971 Concert for Bangladesh and was taken up by Bono and Geldof, who raised £50m for the victims of the Ethiopian famine with the Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia in 1985. Unlike Robbie Williams and Geri Halliwell, for example, who made brief appearances in Sierra Leone and the Philippines respectively, Martin seems genuinely committed to the cause.
Dan Cairns, who did one of the first interviews with Martin for The Sunday Times in 2000, said: “He sees the band as the next U2 and anything that fits in with the Bono brand, not just in terms of the music but also in terms of evangelising and moral crusades, is going to fit in with his perception of himself.”
Whatever the truth about their marriage plans, Paltrow seemed to have matters other than fair trade on her mind last week: while Martin was lobbying in Cancun, she was seen on a mammoth shopping spree in the designer stores of Knightsbridge.
Peter Conradi Additional reporting: Paul Day, Cancun