The interfaith symposium on the death penalty at the San Diego Islamic Center last week was about to begin when U2 frontman Bono stepped out of the audience. He got up and sang “One” and later stayed for photos and autographs.
Maybe you can guess where this is going.
It was actually Pavel Sfera, a professional Bono impersonator and ardent death penalty opponent who left the some in awe, others certain they met the real deal, and a conference organizer upset.
Sfera is a former San Diegan who has played in a number of U2 cover bands. He lives in Chicago now and was back in Southern California recently for a handful of Bono impersonation gigs.
In an interview with Baby Heisman, he said a friend with the S.D. chapter of Amnesty International knew he was passionate about the death penalty - along with all of Bono's humanitarian causes - and asked if he wanted to attend the conference. He said that, because of the gigs, he only had his “Bono clothes” with him. Photos that people took with him at the conference Thursday night show him sporting the Bono-trademark hairstyle, stubble, black jacket and tinted shades.
A college student in the audience said that when a woman helping moderate the conference introduced Sfera as Bono, he didn’t try to dissuade the crowd.
Sfera told the imam of the Clairemont mosque that he wasn’t actually the U2 frontman, “but he wasn’t hearing it; I said it twice,” Sfera said in an accent that sounds more Eastern European than Irish.“I’ve come to the point where, no matter what I say, they aren’t going to hear it,” Sfera said. “People hear what they want to hear.” He added that he doesn’t sign Bono’s name on autographs, only a brief message such as “peace and love” or “God bless,” which the student in the audience, who got a photo with Sfera, confirmed. (Photo below)
But Kent Peters, one of the conference organizers, said it wasn’t just a case of mistaken identity. He said a member of San Diego’s anti-death-penalty community had told him that Bono would attend.
He said the idea didn’t seem too far-fetched because the topic of the conference fit with Bono’s humanitarian interests.
“But five minutes before we started, he turned to me and said it’s not Bono, that it’s an impersonator,” Peters said. “It was really uncomfortable.”
Peters, a leader in the local chapter of California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty, said he hasn’t had a chance to talk to the person who told him Bono was coming to find out what happened.
Peters called the incident “a mild distraction,” especially because of the opportunity to quell stereotypes that Muslims are violent supporters of the death penalty. But he also said it left him “disappointed, embarrassed and angry all at the same time.”
He said that, during a break in the conference for Islamic prayer, he went around trying to tell organizers and others that Sfera wasn’t Bono. And Sfera said "I think, by and large, most people recognize that I'm not really him." But days after the symposium, a man who answered the phone at the Islamic Center was adamant that Bono did attend.
“No, it was him. He was just passing by in the city,” said the man, who declined to give his name.
Pavel Sfera homepage
California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty
Islamic Center of San Diego
And via YouTube: