- Interview with Ali Hewson
- © 'More' magazine, Francine Cunningham
From the outside, one can only imagine how difficult it could
be to hold on to any sense of your own identity, whenmarried to
one of the most famous men in the world. "I suppose it could be,"
says Ali Hewson, wife of U2's Bono. "But I really don't have a
big problem with my own identity, because I am a very private
person, so I've always let Bono take the brunt of anything that
was coming along. He is happy to do that; I am quite happy to
make my own way around things."
Ali Hewson, formerly Alison Stewart, grew up in the less
affluent suburbs of north Dublin and met Bono at school - Mount
Temple interdenominational. He tried to chat her up on her first
day there, but she brushed him away. He pursued her for several
years, using humour as his calling card. The relationship moved
slowly, because she didn't want to become just another of Bono's
After his mother died, it was the more practical Ali who
helped look after the scatter-brained Bono, taking care of the
essential things like food and clothes and house keys. The couple
were married when Ali was 22, at the old Guinness Church of
Ireland in Raheny, Dublin, in August 1982, with U2 bass player
Adam Clayton as best man.
Ali Hewson comes across as open, natural, and sincerely warm.
She is not inclined to make false claims of herself, or pretend
to have any more knowledge than she has. Her smile is frequent,
and often self-deprecating. At the age of 33, she has gained a
degree in social science, politics and sociology, as a mature
student, and now devotes most of her time to her daughters,
Jordan and Eve, and to doing some campaigning work for
"It is hard, sometimes. I hate being called 'Bono's wife,' and
being identified just as that. I know that people who know me
well enough don't think of me like that. But there are always
going to be others who don't see me as having a separate
identity, who just see us as the one person. At the end of the
day, I don't really care what people think, just so long as I
feel strong enough about myself."
Ali is forced to fall back on her own resources a great deal
because her husband is away touring so often. "That is different,
that is a bit harder. Especially when the children get to the
stage that they won't listen to you anymore," she says. "I say,
'I'm going to ring your father, and tell him to give out to you'.
It doesn't work, I'm afraid, with my two, particularly as they
have his character! They are both strong-minded."
It was having children that made Ali Hewson start thinking
about the environment in which they would grow up. She got
involved with Greenpeace, campaigning against the Sellafield
nuclear power plant, 200kms across the Irish Sea, on the
northwest coast of Britain. And to lend strength to the campaign,
she agreed to present a powerful and moving documentary on the
effects of the fallout from the Russian Chernobyl nuclear
disaster, Black Wind, White Land, shownrecently on Irish
More than 600,000 people were evacuated from the former Soviet
state of Belarus, following the Chernobyl accident, in 1986.
Since then, leukemias and childhood cancers have doubled, genetic
deformities tripled and people of all ages are traumatised.
Radiation levels must be checked before children can be allowed
outside to play. There is talk of young girls being sterilised
when they reach puberty, to reduce the incidence of birth
deformities. Already, the birth rate has droppedby 50%.
Ali and the film crew were, naturally, anxious about exposing
themselves to radiation during their three-week stay in Belarus.
"We were in the exclusion zones, where the radiation was highest.
The main dangers now are dust particles and contaminated food,
and the soil. We just brought along dried food and our own water.
But people wanted to give us food and drink, and look after us.
There was no way that you could say, 'It's okay for you to eat
that, but I'm not going to eat it, thanks very much.' So we did
eat and drink there, and just sort of hoped for the best," says
Despite her own involvement, she declines responsibility for
U2's recent protest at the imminent opening of a second plant at
Sellafield. "We probably both influence each other, we both share
the same concerns," she says. "I am really frightened about the
second plant at Sellafield opening up. And I don't want to sit
back and let them do it without me protesting, which is all I can
As a wealthy person, she feels she has a responsibility to do
what she can to raise awareness on such issues, if only because
she is not tied to a nine to five job. "I am very privileged from
that point of view. I would not feel right about taking money for
anything I do. It's really nice to be able to get into something
without having to feel I'm financially dependent on it." There is
a set of women married to rich, high profile men, who involve
themselves in charity work. While their work is both worthwhile
and commendable, does Ali ever fear that she will be branded as
another one of the so-called 'Ladies Who Lunch'?
"I can really see where that criticism comes from - that these
people are rich and can go out and raise money for charity, and
feel like they have done something, but never really care. But I
don't think that's justified. People who criticise these women
are probably giving into cynicism, and I think if you get cynical
about life, you lose the real meaning of it. I couldn't allow the
fear of someone saying that about me to stop me from doing what I
believe in," says Ali.
"A lot of these women do really good work, they are necessary,
and they are people who really care. Fair play to them for
putting themselves in a position where they are going to be
ridiculed sometimes for what they are doing. Especially if they
are filling a gap where the government has let people down. They
are giving back and I think that is a good thing. They could sit
on their ass and do nothing if they wanted to. They could go to
lunch without raising money for charity."
Ali Hewson has chosen to live apart as much as possible from
the glittery, celeb-encrusted circuit. "I wasn't raised for that.
I'm from the northside! It's just the way things have fallen
really. I know a lot of people in those circles, who are really
good friends. But it just doesn't seem right for me. It's not
where I would really feel comfortable, I suppose."
She hopes her environmental work will not keep her in that
limelight too long. "I will probably do my best to avoid that.
This is an exception, made for what I thought was a very good
reason. I'm very protective of my kids, and of my life with Bono.
It has worked very well up to now, the sort of life where I can
go out and do all the normal sort of stuff, and he can take all
the heat. I'd like to stay that way. I'd rather work behind the
She refutes any idea that telling Bono of her experiences at
Belarus may have fed into the mood of his recent compositions.
"Bono is not influenced by me in the slightest!" she laughs. "We
have only had one really good conversation about it since he
became famous. We have seen very little of each other in the last
year and a half. Our communication has been erratic." Is it hard
to keep track of a relationship in those circumstances? "I
suppose we are used to it by now, we have been together for long
enough, and it works for us. I usually find that after a
separation, the relationship jumps a bit; when you get back
together, it has moved on.
"It can be really difficult to readjust to having someone
living back in the house. I can't help thinking, 'What are you
doing in my bed?' or 'What are you doing in my bathroom?' or 'Why
are you leaving your clothes all over my house?' Bono always says
that he feels like a bit of litter around the house, that I just
want to tidy him away.
"But apart from the practical adjustments like that, I usually
find that we are much closer together after a separation. You
don't take each other for granted, like you do if you see each
other every day. There is always something new to talk
Dealing with the coming down process, after Bono returns from
a major tour, could present difficulties. "Going away to Belarus
for three weeks was quite interesting because I went through that
when I came home. I had never been away on my own like that
before, away from Bono and the kids, working on an independent
project. So I could really understand how he feels when he comes
back from a tour," says Ali.
"It is very hard for him to come back home and say, 'Yeah, I'm
normal.' He wants to climb on the table at 11 o'clock every night
and try to perform! He's wondering where are the 50,000 people.
We sort of laugh at it now."
Does she worry that home life for Bono will seem dull and
boring by comparison? "Well, he never makes me feel like that, at
all," she says.
Occasionally, doesn't Ali wish she had married Joe Bloggs from
north Dublin? "Sometimes, yes, but I have never met Joe Bloggs! I
don't know anyone who is normal - everyone has their own little
quirk. Sometimes I wish life was just a lot simpler. But I can't
imagine Bono in a nine to five job. He would have lost his
"It would be nice to walk down Grafton Street, and do lots of
of things that we can't do together. But I have kept my life
private, so at least I can still do it." It would be easy to
resent someone coming home and bringing a load of cameras with
them. "Well, it comes with the territory," remarks Ali. "But we
are fortunate - at least the job pays well, so we can get out of
it if we want to. We can go and have a holiday somewhere away
from it all. So it all works out in the end."
Bono will sometimes come home drained after his touring
schedule with U2. "You have get the band aid out, and try to fix
all the bits that are broken. But every relationship goes through
that. It is just a matter of whether it works or not, and if it
does, everything is fine. I think Bono is happy," says Ali,
"I don't feel threatened. You can live your life being scared
of losing someone, and, at the end of the day, if he is going to
leave you, he'll leave you, and that's it." she laughs.
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