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Old 06-30-2006, 07:00 PM   #1
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New Ali Article in The Times

The Times July 01, 2006

Her heart's on her green sleeve

Ali Hewson, aka Mrs Bono, tells Janice Turner that running an ethical fashion label isn’t the only way she keeps her feet on the ground

The rock star wives I’ve met before — Jerry Hall, Trudie Styler — both appeared to bask in reflected fame, while being a little niggled that their latest project is never deemed equal to their husband’s new album. Not so Ali Hewson, aka Mrs Bono. She loathes the spotlight, indeed is uncomfortable speaking to me. Her marriage, the normality of her children’s lives and her personal happiness is predicated on staying as far from celebrity as is feasible when your husband has sold 125 million records and been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace.
“When I first met Bono,” she says, “the deal was that I looked after the children and the home and he did the talking.” But now with her clothing line Edun, which she launched last year to create high fashion under fair trade principles, she has felt compelled to step forward.

Hewson is back from Lesotho, in southern Africa, one of the world’s poorest nations: half of its population are unemployed; 27 per cent are HIV-infected. It is there, incongruously, in a converted brewery, that the delicate, exquisitely detailed sketches of New York designer Rogan Gregory are manufactured into £95 jeans and £200 jackets, worn by stars such as the actress Natalie Portman and the supermodel Helena Christensen.

Today Hewson wears a navy trouser suit from the autumn-winter collection in teeny sample size. She is 45, but looks younger with her fine bones and pale Irish complexion, nude of make-up with a pair of severe I-mean-business specs. Her manner is warm, low-key and feminine, yet she is tough enough to risk being mocked as a rock wife dilettante. “People can look at this and go ‘Not someone else trying to change the world’,” she says. “But I’m just trying to find a little corner where I can make a difference. Bono was working on the macro level talking to governments about funding. I had a desire to do something on the ground. Every time he went out to Africa he came back talking about the need for trade, not charity.”

Despite Live Aid and Live 8, Africa has slipped from 6 per cent of the world’s trade in 1980 to 2 per cent today. Clothing manufacturers have decamped to cheap-labour markets of China and Asia. Edun, which also has factories in Tunisia and Peru, seeks to help those left behind. But it is not easy. “We’re trying to get products in from the Developing World, on time, to the First World. If you’re doing a fashion line from Italy it’s simple, but try getting clothes from Lesotho to Selfridges.” Yet if Edun can cut a profit — and it is a business not a charity — while paying fair wages, Hewson hopes that other firms will return in their wake.

And what she is counting on to fuel her efforts is the allpowerful ethical shopper: “This isn’t really being driven by us, but by people on the street.” The conscious consumer who demands that cosmetics are not tested on animals, that food is pesticide-free and that coffee isn’t bought from growers at exploitative prices will not want T-shirts sewn in sweatshops and, Edun hopes, will be happy to support a brand that not only respects its workers but the environment by using organic cotton. The spraying of cotton accounts for a quarter of the world’s pesticides. The slogan “We carry the story of the people who make our clothes around with us” is embroidered into every Edun garment.

“How you spend the money in your pockets says a lot about you,” says Hewson. She tries to buy ethically, but concedes that it is hard to deduce which firms treat workers fairly. “There should be more transparency. Since I’ve had kids I do think about the inequalities. That’s what drives me. I don’t want to be buying clothes for my children that are made by other people’s children.”

She and Bono have two girls, Jordan 17, Eve, 14, and two boys, Elijah, 6, and John, 5. Built-in babysitters, I suggest. “You obviously don’t have teenage girls!” she laughs. “Having toddlers and teenagers in the same house is very, shall we say, interesting.” The family lives in the south Dublin suburb of Killiney “in a big, old house which really needs auditing from a green point of view”, says Hewson. She is the one worrying about the family’s carbon footprint, nagging the children to switch off lights: “Bono doesn’t notice stuff like that; he’s a big-picture kind of guy.” Ideally she’d like to install solar panels and wind turbines. She buys her food locally – one of Ireland’s first organic farmers lives close by — and swears that her next car will be a hybrid. But she is most heartened by Ireland’s openness towards green advances, in particular the lack of complaints about the 10p tax on every plastic bag handed out in shops, which has dramatically reduced litter. “All my friends take a recyclable bag shopping with them,” says Hewson. “But I’m the one who forgets every time!” The family are just across the city from Mount Temple Secondary Modern, where Ali and Paul Hewson (as was) met when she was 12 and he 13. She started dating him at 15, married him at 22. U2 was formed from Bono’s classmates. Ali’s best friend is still the partner of drummer Larry Mullen and they mostly live close by. “We wouldn’t want to raise our children anywhere else. There is still a community in Ireland, even though it has changed dramatically in the past 20 years.” But it is one that leaves stars alone; Ireland’s non-reverential attitude to celebrity has enabled the family to live the kind of normal life yearned for by those imprisoned in LA canyon-top mansions. “I think it’s very difficult if both partners are in the limelight,” she says. “Because who goes to buy the milk? Who does the regular stuff that makes life feel just that little bit more normal.”

And while Bono was absorbed making U2 the world’s biggest stadium band, Hewson focused on the home. Yet she was never satisfied with merely enjoying the fruits of her husband’s success. From the start the couple shared an outrage at injustice, a belief that stems as much from their strong religious faith — something she hesitates to discuss — as from their politics. Despite the Maserati, the houses in France, the swimming pools and staff, Hewson is little interested in possessions. “I’ve never been interested in things that sparkle and shine. I’m more interested in people.”

The true privilege of her position is “being able to do something, rather than be stuck behind a TV set looking at everything that is going on in the world and getting depressed”. In 1985, after Live Aid, she and Bono went secretly to Ethiopia to work in the refugee camps: “The spirit of those people and the children was really humbling. It left us feeling spiritually starving, seeing how incredibly alive they were despite their circumstances. It’s not a case of you going and giving, you also have to receive when you are out there. It’s a two-way process.”

Since then, Hewson has worked for the Chernobyl Children’s Project for those abandoned by parents after being born with genetic defects as a consequence of the nuclear accident. She does not just fundraise or act as a figurehead but has driven an ambulance from Ireland to Belarus. She stayed the night in institutions so rough that the aid workers had to be locked in their bedrooms. “I like to do it physically. I feel it’s an important part of the statement, that I am prepared to unload the trucks, not just flounce in and flounce out. There is something very satisfying about getting physically exhausted helping people.”

Her charity work has given structure and meaning to a life that could, if she chose, be an endless round of parties and shopping. But it would seem that the secret to keeping a rock marriage alive for 23 years is that the wife is independent, has strength of character, can bring the pampered and worshipped rock star back to earth. Bono has said of Ali: “She won’t let me wear her like a brooch” and “I have somebody in my life, after a long time, I still feel I don’t know.”

Has she never felt that she could lose Bono, such as when the Joshua Tree album gave him sudden, stratospheric fame? “We’re still together,” is all she’ll say. “Whatever we have, it’s working.” And what about the supermodels who hung around with U2? Was it hard trying to compete? “There is no competition; you can’t compete with those girls!” she says. “They are all pretty special, I have to say. But what’s great about them — the ones that we know — is that they’re real people. Helena has a real family, a real sense of herself, she’s a great girl. Christie (Turlington) and Naomi (Campbell) too. Naomi has a great heart.” But what of Campbell’s diva reputation? “I think to be that beautiful and to be dragged in to that fashion world at 16 before you’re really formed as a person is not a great tool for negotiating life.”

Besides, Hewson, ironically for someone running a fashion label, was never a clotheshorse. She is saddened by ageing but says: “There are great things which come with it. You become more comfortable with yourself.” She eats well, is a firm believer in homoeopathy, avoids wheat by eating Irish soda bread, and constantly changes her exercise regimen, Pilates and yoga are favourites, because she quickly grows bored.

But it strikes me that in those surveys of how to acquire true happiness, Hewson ticks all the boxes: deep roots in her community, happy marriage, religious faith and dedicated to a purpose bigger than herself. The only threat is a breach of her precious privacy. “The only reason I would talk to you is that I believe in Edun. I feel it has the power to make change. And I accept that there is interest because I am Bono’s wife. But I would naturally not be here. I would be somewhere else unpacking a truck and very happy doing it.”

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Old 06-30-2006, 07:18 PM   #2
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Thanks for this. Ali is truly a great person and she deserves to have Bono.

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Old 06-30-2006, 07:46 PM   #3
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Thanks biff
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Old 06-30-2006, 07:53 PM   #4
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That's a really great article. Thanks for posting it.
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Old 06-30-2006, 08:23 PM   #5
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Thank you biff for posting that!
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Old 06-30-2006, 08:33 PM   #6
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Old 06-30-2006, 08:43 PM   #7
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“I’ve never been interested in things that sparkle and shine. I’m more interested in people.”
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Old 06-30-2006, 09:17 PM   #8
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Thank you for posting this. It was a great read.

“She won’t let me wear her like a brooch”

Ali is definitely her own person. A real woman of substance. Gotta love her.
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Old 06-30-2006, 09:52 PM   #9
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Awesome...thank you!
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Old 06-30-2006, 09:54 PM   #10
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Thank you, biff, for posting this article!
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Old 06-30-2006, 10:22 PM   #11
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What a great lady!
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Old 06-30-2006, 10:46 PM   #12
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I just adore that woman! :toughangel: Proof that humans may have some redeeming qualities after all.
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Old 06-30-2006, 10:49 PM   #13
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Thanks for posting this! Ali is the definition of class!
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Old 06-30-2006, 11:28 PM   #14
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Great insight
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Old 06-30-2006, 11:52 PM   #15
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What a great article!! Ali is so inspiring!!!
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Old 07-01-2006, 02:43 AM   #16
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Originally posted by lauramullen
Thanks for this. Ali is truly a great person and she deserves to have Bono.

Bono deserves Ali.............
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Old 07-01-2006, 04:48 AM   #17
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Unusual lady, Ali. Got to give it to her. She's certainly done a lot with her life, made a difference to other ppl and is so uncelebrity-like, it's a pleasure to read about her.

Thanks for the thread.
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Old 07-01-2006, 05:29 AM   #18
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She's great, very impressive, and Bono is lucky to have someone like her who keeps him grounded.
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Old 07-01-2006, 06:43 AM   #19
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thanks biff
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Old 07-01-2006, 07:10 AM   #20
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Aww this article is great, Ali truly is a great person

Thanks for posting it!

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