TV Review: Shock-horror viewing as Bono talks about tax
Gay Byrne reeled in another big fish when he spoke to U2’s frontman. For pure emotion, though, the winner was Davina McCall’s Long Lost Family
Pitchfork at the ready?: You had to admit that Bono – pictured at One, the humanitarian organisation he cofounded – gave Gay Byrne a clear answer about U2’s tax. Photograph: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty
The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne (RTÉ One, Tuesday) rolls around each year without too much fanfare. It’s a jammy enough retirement gig for the veteran broadcaster: a sit-down chat with a well-known Irish person, usually covering well-worn ground and centred around their spiritual and religious beliefs.
It gets a late-night slot – an acknowledgment that it’s minority-interest stuff – and my guess is that whether you tune in depends on if you like Byrne’s style of interviewing. All those cut-away shots of him pursing his lips until they disappear, widening his eyes in mock horror or nodding sagely in approval are not to everyone’s taste.
Or maybe it depends on whether you think people’s religious beliefs are a private matter and not enormously interesting to see laid out before you. I feel that way about the man with the 10-stone testicles who was the subject of Monday’s Bodyshock Special, Channel 4’s highest-rating programme of the week.
But every now and again The Meaning of Life reels in a big fish, such as last October, when the former president Mary McAleese was interviewed at home. Much advance publicity was wrung out if it – her new hairstyle, her support of gay marriage – and viewing figures spiked.
The Meaning of Life hit the jackpot again this week with Bono, and the headlines about the programme were all about his tax affairs. Less than midway through the interview Byrne said, “If I don’t ask you this I’ll be criticised, and if I do ask you this I’ll be criticised. The subject of U2’s taxation arrangements, whereby people are expressing their wonder at what they call your hypocrisy – not my word, their word: hypocrisy – of haranguing us all, and asking us to pay for more international aid, at the same time as you shift your company overseas in order to save taxation.”
It’s U2 behaving like a business, and that’s a “shock-horror moment for a lot of Irish people”, Bono said.
“This thing of the warm, fuzzy feeling . . . I’d like people to get over that. Because that’s not who I am. I am tough, and I may sing from a very private and intimate place, and I make art, but I’m tough-minded and I’m intellectually rigorous, I hope. And I think U2’s tax business is our own business, and I think it’s not just to the letter of the law; it is to the spirit of the law.”
Unless you had your pitchfork at the ready from the off – and Bono does seem to bring out the flinty-eyed begrudger in a lot of people – you have to admit it’s a clear answer.
A philosophical discussion could have followed, and a detour through the Bible, which has quite a lot to say on hypocrisy, might have teased out the issue.
As part of his answer Bono said he had helped bring Google and Facebook to Ireland, which is news, but Byrne let that slide, steering the interview back to religion and spirituality.
The rock star talked with humour and clarity about his childhood, his regular reading of scripture, his belief in Christ, how his family pray, his relationship with his father in his dying days and more.