TRUE TALES OF THE ROAD: Tea with Bono
It’s 1997 (we seem to be missing a decade) and U2 comes to Edmonton to play not one, but two shows at the stadium on the band’s Popmart tour. Local media greet the band on the tarmac of the Edmonton International Airport, with both CFRN (CTV) and ITV (now Global) going live for the 6 O’Clock news just U2’s private “Popmart” jet rolls to a stop, throngs of excited fans waving and screaming from behind a fence.
Although the press are told there would be no interviews, Bono emerges from the plane and “makes a bee-line” for the scrum, as CTV’s Graham Neil remembers it. For some reason, Bono is holding a tea service, a pot of tea and a single cup. Neil is the first to ask the obvious question about the tea.
Bono replies, “We come to bring you tea!”
Graham jumps right in and takes the tea. Thus ensues a ridiculous conversation between the CTV entertainment guy and the U2 singer on this historic occasion – prattling on about the merits of Earl Grey vs. English Breakfast, proper steeping methods and the joys of bone china as poor ITV is forced to shoot its competitor – imagining shouts of “GET THIS GUY OUT OF OUR SHOT!” back at the control room. Awkward.
Neil explains that he didn’t mean to hijack the interview. It just happened. He says, “I think I was the first to engage him in a serious tea conversation, so he cut everybody else out.”
The tea, he adds, was “good.” Bono even gave Neil the teacup and signed it afterwards. It’s just one of many magnanimous gestures the singer would make on this day.
The unscheduled press conference continues with another obvious question, this one from Edmonton Journal rock critic Shawn Ohler: “How was Winnipeg?” Then, as now, U2 played Winnipeg before Edmonton.
Bono answers, “We rocked the ‘Peg and we’re going to rock the ‘Ton!”
The reporters all look at each other like he’s mad, so Bono asks for clarification on Edmonton’s correct nickname.
Ohler chimes in, “It’s the ‘Chuck, Edmon-chuck.”
Bono says, “And we are going to rock the ‘Chuck!”
The next day, at the show in front of 50,000 people, the first thing Bono says is “HELLO, EDMONCHUCKA!” The morning radio zoos spend the next two days lambasting Ohler for not telling Bono that the proper nickname for Edmonton is “City of Champions.”
“But Bono was going to call us the Ton,” Ohler defends himself. “It’s not the Ton. It’s the Chuck.”
The singer talks so much on this day that the TV people eventually get bored and take off, leaving Ohler and Bono to themselves – an unscheduled exclusive interview with probably the biggest rock star in the world at the time.
“It was just me and the pocket-sized man talking for 15 minutes,” Ohler says. “He’s a wee man. If he’s 5’ 5”, I’d be shocked. I remember clearly him talking about how the disco lemon ball thing was inspired from Parliament and Funkadelic. We just shot the shit … Bono seemed like a smart guy, and I’ve always thought that about him. He understands the game, but because he’s good-natured and Irish, he allows himself to be an actual human being in those situations. And I was only 26 at the time, so I was kind of star struck.”
Ohler and Neil concur that Bono seemed to love the attention. At some point in there, the wee man walks all the way across the tarmac to the fence to spend a long time signing autographs for fans, swatting mosquitoes and joking, “Is the mosquito Canada’s national bird?”
As celebrities go, Ohler notes, the gregarious and hospitable Bono was a stark contrast to the Rolling Stones, who literally arrived under cover of the night and had no interaction with the local media or fans whatsoever.
Of Bono, Graham Neil says, “It really felt like when the Beatles came to America for the first time. He was here. It was an experience. He knew about Edmonton, where we were and that we bought lots of U2 albums. He had a great sense of humour. If you looked around the room and had to pick out the rock star, it was him. The party was in his honour and he was loving it – he was eating it up.”
Remember: You pour the tea into the cup with the cream already in it, not the other way around. And let’s hope Bono brings more cups this time.