“I’m sitting on the bus aware that someone behind me is singing Do They Know It’s Christmas?”: Nik Kershaw recalls his “insane” encounter with David Bowie at Live Aid

Nik Kershaw Live Aid
(Image credit: Phil Dent/Redferns/Getty Images)

“In those days, record companies built careers,” says Nik Kershaw when he’s reminded that his first single, I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, initially failed to break the Top 40.

“That’s just the start,” he told Virgin Radio host Andy Goldstein in a recent interview. “It got my name around and got me played on a few radio stations so when Wouldn’t It Be Good came out in January ‘84 it was all prepared for me.” 

Kershaw would go on to release two albums in 1984 - Human Racing and The Riddle - and, in celebration of their 40th anniversary, he’ll be touring the UK later this year. Both records were hits, making Kershaw an obvious choice to appear at Live Aid, in 1985. 

“I remember Bob Geldof press ganging people at Heathrow Airport in January and saying that ‘we’re going to do a gig’ because the Band Aid single had come out,” Kershaw explains. “‘We’re going to do a gig - do you want to do it?’

“I said ‘yeah, alright’, but then it was gonna be Hammersmith Apollo and then it was going to be Wembley Arena and then there were going to be two billion watching on the telly. So we were kind of aware it was getting bigger and bigger and bigger as time got closer.”

Also on the bill that day was David Bowie, one of Kershaw’s musical heroes, and he remembers a slightly bizarre encounter with him. 

“I didn’t see him during the day at all, but when we got off stage we all got chucked on minibuses to go back to the conference centre,” Kershaw recalls. “And I’m sitting on the bus aware that someone behind me is singing Do They Know It’s Christmas? And I’m going, ‘I know that voice’, and I turn around and Bowie is sitting behind me. Just insane.”

Did he speak to him, though? In a 2022 interview with The Guardian, Kershaw revealed that he missed his chance: "I had two minutes to try to summon up the courage to speak to him but couldn’t do it - I couldn’t think of anything at all to say."

On the subject of Live Aid, Kershaw says that, even at the time, one particular performance stood out.

“I remember sitting in the Royal Box watching Queen do their thing and thinking ‘people are going to remember this. This is a bit special.’ It was an astonishing day - it really was such a privilege to have been there.”

With his sophisticated songwriting style, it’s debatable if Kershaw would fit the mould of the modern pop star, and he accepts that the musical climate is very different now to how it was when he started out.

“Music in the ‘80s, you were pretty much allowed to do what you want,” he says. “I’ve learned that over the years - I haven’t had it beaten out of me. Nothing wrong with stage schools and LIPA [Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts] and The Brits School and stuff like that, but it seems to turn people into a certain kind of thing. I think acts back in those days retained a bit more personality.”

Dates and tickets for Nik Kershaw’s tour are available via his website.

Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.