Bono told a story Sunday about the time Nelson Mandela found himself addressing an arena that was only one-tenth full. In the process, he did a Mandela impression for which apologized in advance.
“Please excuse this,” the U2 frontman said. “Every idiot thinks he can do Nelson Mandela.”
Members of the band spoke Sunday after a screening of “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” at the Director’s Guild of America in New York City. Their song from the film, “Ordinary Love,” is nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar.
Bono (pictured with Mandela in 2003) recounted how he once took part in a concert that was turning into a disaster.
“We’ve done a few things as a band… they don’t all work out very well,” Bono said. “We were part of one called — it’s actually the most memorable title of any event we’ve ever been involved in — it was called ‘Frock and Roll.’ And it was an attempt to marry the worlds of music and fashion for Mr. Mandela’s children’s fund, I think.”
The event was scheduled for a 20,000-seat arena in Barcelona. But because of questions about whether it would really take place, most of the musicians bailed out, and only about 2,000 people showed up. The organizers decided to turn down the lights so that Mandela wouldn’t see how scattered the crowd was when he went onstage to speak, Bono said.
And when Mandela took the stage, he taught a lesson in humility, Bono said.
“He looked out and he just went, ‘It is a dangerous thing to have high expectations. I have such high expectations of the good people of Barcelona.’ … And then he says, ‘I want to tell you, from the bottom of my heart: You have more than exceeded all my expectations. To turn up for an old man like me.'”
Bono, who also does a great Bill Clinton impression, noted that he’s the member of U2 who pays the most attention to ticket sales. Initially he thought Mandela was kidding — but he wasn’t. It’s a story Bono has shared before, but one that had the audience rolling.
You can hear audio of the story below. The impersonation begins at the 2:41 mark: