Bono reveals he has a half-brother from his late father’s extramarital affair

U2 frontman tells BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs he only learned this in 2000 and had ‘complicated relationship’ with his father

Bono, the U2 frontman, has revealed he has a half-brother he did not know about until he discovered in 2000 that his father, Bob Hewson, had an extramarital affair.

The revelation comes in an in-depth personal interview with the Dublin singer on the BBC for its Desert Island Discs radio programme where he discusses U2, his life and his political activism.

The 62-year-old performer tells interviewer Lauren Laverne in the programme, to be broadcast on Sunday, that he had a “complicated relationship” with his late father, who died in 2001.

In the BBC Radio 4 programme, the singer talks about how the sudden death of his mother, Iris, from a brain aneurysm in September 1974, when the singer was just 14, ruptured the family.

He said that growing up in a house with his older brother, Norman, and their father was “three men just shouting at each other” and that it “got rough” with them “scrapping”.

Bono said that his father’s extramarital affair and his half-brother were kept a secret from his mother and the rest of the family. “Nobody knew,” he said.

He said the affair with a woman “who was part of the family” likely led to some tension between father and son, though he admitted that he was also partly to blame.

“He was coping with a lot, you know. I didn’t know quite what was going on, and I subsequently understood he was coping with other stuff in his life,” he said. “I feel like I wasn’t there for him really in the way I should be.”

Bono said his father’s affair produced “another brother whom I love and adore that I didn’t know I didn’t have — or maybe I did.”

“My father was obviously going through a lot. But partly his head was elsewhere because his heart was elsewhere. So I think that was part of the problem I was probably picking up as a kid,” the singer said during the 40-minute interview.

“It’s a very close family, and I could tell that my father had a deep friendship with this gorgeous woman who was part of the family and then they had a child, and this was all kept secret.”

Bono said he talked to his father about the affair before his death, in August 2001, from cancer.

“I asked him did he love my mother, and he said yes. I said: ‘How could this happen?’ He said ‘It can’ and that he was trying to put it right. He was trying to do the right thing. He wasn’t apologising. He was just stating these are the facts, and I’m at peace with it,” he said.

The singer said he apologised to his father after his death in a little 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.”

In the wide-ranging interview, Bono admitted that his activism has sometimes caused tensions within U2 because it has brought them in contact with politicians they disliked and disagreed with.

“It was very difficult for the band to see me in certain company. It was excruciating for them, but they gave me their blessing. They believed that it was the right thing to do if we could get certain things across the line,” he said.

The singer said he disagreed with critics of U2′s decision to move some of their business activities to the Netherlands to avoid paying higher taxes in Ireland. He defended the move. “I think at the root of this is a false idea that if you’re tough-minded in your activism, you somehow have to be soft-headed in your business,” he said.

Asked how he balanced those business decisions against his “moral compass,” Bono said: “You would be immoral to be sort of dismissive of those things. It is actually the fiduciary duty of a public company, or a private company to control costs.” He called the criticism a “gotcha situation for U2”. “There are a lot of reasons to not like our band. This is not one of them. We pay a lot of tax and we are very proud to pay tax. So it’s just, like, ‘Really? Why would we be the poster child for this? Is it to do with something else?’”

On the recent social media criticism he received for a poem he wrote for the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, on St Patrick’s Day last, he said: “That was a bit silly.”

Bono said the poem was in fact a limerick and was intended to be satirical and funny when people were trying to compare him to the Nobel laureate poet Seamus Heaney.

“Look, I deserve a slap. Every singer in a rock-and-roll band is going to step on somebody’s toes, say the wrong thing, screw up, so it’s not like we don’t deserve some criticism — I am all for that — but that poem business is just ridiculous. It was a limerick.”

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent