Bono's ability to win people over to his mission for Africa is legendary. But how does he do it? And where does he think this fusion of celebrity and politics will lead? In his only newspaper interview, Madeleine Bunting spends a day with the U2 star to find out.
It's 11.30 in a top floor suite in a five-star hotel in Cologne. The Edge, U2's guitarist, is having a subdued breakfast with his daughters in the lounge after the previous night's concert, the second date of the European leg of their Vertigo tour. Larry Mullen, the band's drummer, wanders through but there's no sign of Bono. He's in his room with a team of German doctors called to attend to a back problem. So far this morning he has had 23 injections to get him back on his feet.
Ahead lies a day of press interviews, a German television show, rehearsals and a late flight to Manchester. Wim Wenders, the German film-maker, comes by to give back a book which Bono had lent him. It's the Polish journalist, Ryszard Kapuscinski's classic on Africa, The Shadow of the Sun. Bono has managed to pull Wenders into taking a key role in Germany's equivalent of Make Poverty History.
Finally, Bono emerges and he's walking stiffly. But the pain doesn't stop the campaign; we're in the lift and the talk is of last weekend's deal on debt. "The conditionality is critical," he says. "Is it the conditionality of we'll drop the debt if you drop your tariffs so we can flood your markets with cheap imports?"
Outside he goes over to the posse of fans. "That man said he was a venture capitalist from Beijing," says a delighted Bono as he gets in the car. "I said we're adventure capitalists."
As the car travels through Cologne, Bono describes how he has lobbied the US administration. He recalls how he met Les Gelb from the US thinktank, the Council of Foreign Relations: "He said I'm not going to give you the names of people who can help you, I'm going to give you the 30 names of the people who can block you. We took them on, one by one".
Then there was the Republican he was lobbying who turned and asked him "Do you know the Lord?" To which Bono quipped, "But does the Lord know me?" before conceding that he was a "believer".
He doesn't stop with the anecdotes, the perfect mimicry and the name checks from Hollywood to Capitol Hill until he gets to the rehearsal studios. He may only have a small audience in his car, but he is still the consummate entertainer.
The rehearsal studios are in a renovated warehouse on a disused industrial estate. First up is a joint interview for the magazine, Stern, with one of Germany's biggest rock stars, Herbert Grönemeyer, who has spearheaded Germany's equivalent of the Make Poverty History campaign. He has even managed to get agreement for Berlin's Brandenburg Gate to be swathed in a white band for the Live 8 concert on July 2.
Before the next interview, there's another round of photos. He listens carefully to what's wanted, poses all rock star toughness - he doesn't do smiles - but all the while he's talking about the experiences in Africa which keep him campaigning:
"We were camping in Ethiopia [he spent six months there with his wife in the mid-80s] and in the morning, this mist was rising and over the hill there were loads of people coming to the feeding centre, dressed in rags. The centre was surrounded in barbed wire, not to keep people in but to keep people out - away from the food. They left babies outside our tent - begging us to take them home with us because they would have better lives with us. I can't talk about this kind of thing with friends and family ..."
He greets some of the entourage which always mills about him. Then it's onto another joint interview with Grönemeyer. He gives the interviewer one of his favourite lines: "Music can change the world. It can change the world inside your head, it changed my little bedroom when I was a kid. And it can change the world."
It's the theme he picks up at each of the concerts where against a backdrop of African flags scrolling down the electronic screen, he sings the song he wrote about Ethiopia, Where the Streets Have No Name.
Bono's politicking is explicit, he's marketing not just his new album on this tour, but his campaign on Africa. It is the result of years of thinking about how to campaign, and how to use his skills as an entertainer to sell a cause.
"This is showbusiness; we're creating drama - this G8 is a one-off moment," he says."Years ago we were very conscious that in order to prevail on Africa, we would have to get better at dramatising the situation so that we could make Africa less of a burden and more of an adventure."
Bono brought much-needed glamour to a worthy campaign when he took up debt relief in 1999. Since then he has pioneered a new model of how celebrities can use their power. What marks him out is how he is re-inventing how rock stars do politics. In the past, musicians were protesters; they used their idealism to be highly critical of politicians. Bono does that, but he also does praise. "I salute Gerhard Schröder for the deal on debt relief at the G7," he tells every German interviewer. And that is a message getting out to hundreds of thousands of the hardest voters to reach - the uncommitted, politically disengaged young.
After some rehearsals with the band, it's a live German television show. There's a couple of songs and a bit of chat on the sofa with the host, a German comedian; this time, it's Edge who kicks off the Africa theme. Bono talks of "our brothers and sisters in Africa" before lavishing praise on his host and the television show.
A convoy takes the U2 entourage - plus the guitars in their cases - to the private plane at Cologne airport. It takes the band a while longer to get out of the green room and through the crowd of fans waiting outside. "I'm a hyperactive kid," Bono declared in one interview earlier in the day, and as he settles into his seat and takes off his shades to begin his interview with the Guardian at 10pm after an airplane supper, one begins to see what he means. "I wish I didn't have to work this hard. I'd prefer to be in a rehearsal room with the band and to spend some more time with my family," he says. But he likens his position to that of a footballer who seizes his chance, he has the ball and he has a clear view of the goal, so he shoots. Bono recognises that his rock star status gives him access and he uses it. But it also carries risk: a risk to his credibility as he tries to give politicians on his side the boost they need to sell their policies on Africa.
Take the speech Bono gave to the Labour party conference last autumn when he likened Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to Paul McCartney and John Lennon. "That was sticking the arse right out of the window - I knew that - but the conference needed to be reminded of some of their ideals and to show to Tony and Gordon that they were going to have to make very difficult, courageous decisions."
His blurring of music and politics also causes tensions within the band. Other members are nervous it could damage the group's image.
"Even though they are completely committed to it [the cause of Africa] and financially committed," he says, "they have lots of difficulties about it, particularly the meeting with Bush and the Labour party conference. The Edge has softened a bit and we seem to have got over those tensions at the moment."
What drives Bono's campaigning is the conviction that the problems of Africa can be solved. The deal he wants at the G8 on aid, trade justice and debt relief is start-up money so the continent can be turned round: "If we meet in 25 years and things are the same as they are now, I will be shocked as well as embarrassed and humiliated. I'm very hopeful of Africa's future - even on Aids which is a winnable war." He seems astonished that not everybody shares his conviction, but the plane has landed and he grimaces. The day is not yet over. There are calls to make to the US before bed to keep the US Live 8 concert in Philadelphia on track. Tomorrow he's on stage. But at least his back feels alright: the injections have worked.