Neil McCormick knew from an early age that he was destined for stardom. Perhaps that sort of ambition in young men is more common than we think. Certainly Mount Temple Comprehensive in Dublin had its fair share of it. It has become famous as the place where Bono, the Edge, Larry and Adam went to school, but there were other students who were just as vigorous in their pursuit of fame and fortune. One of them was Neil. At 16 he was “optimistic about his future… If some time traveller from the future had told me that one day Mount Temple would become a legendary institution in the annals of Irish show business, I would not have been remotely surprised. And if they had informed me that among this generation of students were four individuals who would become the most famous Irish exports since Guinness? why, I would have shrugged bashfully before looking around at my schoolmates to try to work out who were the other three”.
In I was Bono's doppelganger, Neil McCormick has written a very funny book about adolescence, ambition and fame, and an affectionate portrait of one of his fellow students – later to become the greatest star of them all, Bono.
Some of the best moments of the book come about when it reveals the shallowness and vanity of the author as a young man. It must have been painful to write at times. Did doing so change McCormick's sense of who he is?
“Thinking about myself as a young man was quite a painful experience. You are confronted with a thinner version of yourself – your naivety, shallowness, childish obsessions. Most of us tend to mythologize our past, but in order to write this book I had to peer objectively through that mythologizing and look for the truth; and it was a bit shocking at times! A lot of the book is about striving for but not achieving fame, but to write it I had to look at why I was so obsessed with fame. As a journalist I have had a lot of fun at the expense of Pop Idol and the hapless auditioning, and then writing the book I had this horrible moment when I realised I would probably have been at the top of the queue, waiting to be abused by Simon Cowell.”
Apart from trying to understand his own quest for fame, what did he want to achieve by writing the book?
“I wanted to write a good book, one that was entertaining and would make people laugh. I had certain ideas and theories I wanted to explore. I wanted it to have an anti-heroic narrative, so I really thought a lot of what incidents to include. I also wanted it to be about fame in the 20th century, and how it is such an all-pervasive obsession. And to look at how so many are called but so few are chosen – what is the criteria by which some achieve superstardom? Finally I wanted to include a portrait of Bono, one that was perhaps more well-rounded than some I have seen, and to include some of the ideas around God and mythology, stuff that I had talked about with Bono for over 25 years. I hope what came out is a funny story about a failing rock and roll band, but also a bit more than that.”
The book traces McCormick's own musical career (or lack of same); it also gives an insight in to the early days of U2. The fast track to stardom of his old friends feeds McCormick's early conviction that he needed “the camera to confirm my existence. I wanted to be somebody. I wanted to be a contender”.