FAMILY, friends and leaders of international charity Band Aid, including Sir Bob Geldof, paid tribute to North Devon farming legend John James at a ceremony in South Molton on Friday.
Sir Bob Geldof surprised more than 300 people when he arrived unexpectedly and delivered a heart-warming eulogy to Mr James, whom he described as “this most magnificent of men.”
Mr James, founder of Mole Valley Farmers and Band Aid’s Field Director in Sudan and Ethiopia, died aged 87 on December 30.
Sir Bob’s was one of several tributes given at the public thanksgiving service, which was held at South Molton Church on Friday and followed a private funeral service.
The Irish singer and political activist, wearing black tie and smart jacket, shared for ten minutes his favourite stories recalling his pleasure, gratitude and admiration while working with Mr James, without whom, he admitted, Band Aid’s work in Africa “would have been a disaster”.
He said: “The man whom we are remembering today was responsible, without a shadow of a doubt, for keeping hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people alive.
“The country he worked for most assiduously and eloquently is in the top ten fastest growing economies of the world and that wouldn’t have been possible without this most magnificent of men.”
Sir Bob Geldof made sure those at the thanksgiving service knew that the tribute he was paying came from the whole Band Aid Trust, including the singer Midge Ure of Ultravox, and the rock promoter, Harvey Goldsmith.
He said he wanted to tell how John James had come to have a “central position among the bunch of Band Aid weirdos”, a description which Mr James had, himself, used when he joined them in 1985 to help the people of the Sudan and Ethiopia.
Smiling Sir Bob said: “He was right, we were a bunch of weirdos, and he fitted in perfectly.”
Sir Bob went on to describe John’s stamina as “beyond endless” working with the farmers of Ethiopia, trekking miles through the heat and dust, spending hours talking to them about trying to grow crops in a land where, he addressed the mourners and said “you couldn’t even grow a blade of grass.”
“It was my instinct to trust him because he struck me, an Irishman, as the epitome of what real English people are – intelligent, rangy, and elegant – like Peter O’Toole as Lawrence of Arabia.”
Sir Bob said when he heard John talk of Mole Valley Farmers, the farmers buying co-operative he founded in South Molton, he’d assumed it was “a hippy commune somewhere in the Westcountry. Now I see that it is,” he joked.
Earlier John James’ colleague and chairman of MVF for 20 years, Brian Peace, said Mr James had worked “tirelessly to help farmers”.
He said: “It’s John James who started and pioneered Mole Valley, to whom we owe our greatest thanks.
“He worked tirelessly to help farmers throughout the South West for 25 years. Without John James we would not have the Mole Valley Farmers that we enjoy.”
On behalf of the James family, nephew Richard James, said of his uncle: “Whilst John will be sorely missed by his wife, Rosemary, his children, his nieces and nephews and his friends at large, perhaps he will be best remembered for his humour, and for the fact that he was a rebel, a maverick, a free spirit, and as a fearless achiever for whom nothing was impossible because he saw no barriers.”
Earlier one of John’s friends and MVF colleague, Rob Connell, had explained how John James founded Mole Valley Farmers to fight for better prices for livestock feed, tools and equipment for North Devon’s farmers.