After more than four decades in the public eye, the rock star Bono has revealed a deeply personal secret and spoken of finding forgiveness and peace.
The U2 frontman has a half-brother he has not talked about before, who was born after his father had an affair while living at home in Dublin with Bono, his brother Norman and their mother.
Bono describes the discovery, and tells how he finally resolved his difficult relationship with his late father, a postal worker Brendan “Bob” Hewson, in a candid radio interview in the runup to the publication of his memoir, Surrender.
“I do have another who I love and adore,” he tells Lauren Laverne on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs this morning. Bono, whose real name is Paul, refers to finding a sibling “that I didn’t know I didn’t have … or maybe I did”.
Learning of the existence of a half-brother, and of a clandestine romance, has helped Bono make sense of his father’s behaviour at the time of the sudden death of his mother, Iris, when Bono was 14. His father died in 2001.
“My father was going through a lot. His head was elsewhere because his heart was elsewhere,” Bono, 62, recalls. “I could tell my father had a deep friendship with this gorgeous woman who was part of the family and then they had a child which was all kept a secret. Nobody knew.”
When he found out the truth Bono challenged his father about their family life. “I asked him, ‘did he love my mother?’. He said, ‘Yes’. And so I asked him ‘how could this happen?’ and he said, ‘it can’, and that he was trying to put it right, trying to do the right thing. He wasn’t apologising, he was just stating these are the facts. I am at peace with it.”
The revelations have left Bono with regrets about his teenage years. “I am sure I was hard to deal with. He was coping with other stuff in his life. He was very droll and very funny. But it got rough,” Bono admits. “I feel like I wasn’t there for him,” he tells Laverne, before recounting a formal apology he later made to his deceased father, privately, at a chapel in France.
“There was nobody there, I lit a candle and I got on my knees and I just said, ‘look I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you, you went through a lot and please forgive me’ and I felt free.”
Bono chooses eight favourite records for the programme, including songs by Bob Dylan and his son, Elijah Hewson, 22. He also defends mixing his anti-poverty and HIV/Aids campaigning with his music career and his controversial decision to move some of the band’s business activities to the Netherlands.
He disagrees with criticism about his tax affairs, telling Laverne: “At the root is a false idea that if you are tough-minded in your activism you somehow have to be soft-minded in your business. It would be immoral to be dismissive of those things. It is actually your fiduciary duty … to control costs. There are lot of reasons not to like our band and this is not one of them. We pay a lot of tax and are very proud to pay tax. So it is, like, really?”
Recent emergency surgery, coupled with the impact of an earlier serious bicycling injury, have changed his attitudes to both life and music, Bono tells Laverne, making him “more vulnerable”.
He also explains his “poem” to the people of Ukraine, read out on St Patrick’s Day by Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, which led to mockery on social media.
“I write limericks sometimes for the Paddy’s Day event. It took 10 minutes, it was trying to be a satire, funny and the speaker of the house, who is an incredible woman, instead of saying ‘limerick’, said it was a poem and so people thought it was like Seamus Heaney,” Bono says.
Arguing that his verse was taken out of context, Bono adds: “I deserve a slap. Every singer in a rock and roll band is going to say the wrong thing. But that poem business is ridiculous. It was just a limerick.”
Acknowledging life-long struggles with anger management – the legacy, he says, of growing up in a house “with three men shouting at each other” – Bono speaks of his pride at pushing for the cancellation of debts in 35 of the world’s poorest countries. He also concedes that he does “not really function without other people’s help”, paying tribute to his wife, Ali Stewart, and fellow band members.