Bill Gates speaks about his relationship with the late Apple founder Steve Jobs and chooses a song in memory of their work together shaping the technology of the modern age, in an appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs on Sunday.
Describing Jobs, who died in 2011, as an “incredible genius”, Gates, 60, chooses as one of his allotted eight favourite tracks the Beatles’s Two of Us, for its apposite line: “You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.”.
He says: “Steve was really into music. He loved the Beatles and so did I. And he actually mentioned this song when we were interviewed together. Only he and I understood how intense [it was] and what great memories came out of it.”
The presenter Kirsty Young introduces the Microsoft co-founder as “the richest man in the world”, and asks him about the competitive friendship that grew between the rival innovators.
“In the early years, the intensity between us had always been about the project and so, then, as Steve got sick, it was far more mellow, in terms of talking about our lives and our kids,” Gates says.
Paying tribute to the Apple co-founder’s “singular” part in the story of the personal computer, and admitting his envy of Jobs’s “incredible design skills”, Gates recalls the formative stages of their work together.
“For some periods we were complete allies, working on the original software for Apple. Sometimes he would be very tough on you and sometimes he would be very encouraging. And he got really great work out of people.”
Gates, who now spends most of his time running the charitable Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that he set up with his wife in 2007, defends himself from the charge he was ruthless in building up his multibillion-dollar business.
“Well, I was only ruthless if you define having super-low prices as ruthless,” he tells Young. “In that sense, yes, we were aggressive.”
Gates enthuses about his work to defeat malaria and his aim for it to become the second virulent disease, after smallpox, to be eradicated. His impulse to give away most of his vast fortune is not that illogical, he argues.
“You don’t have that many choices. You are not going to spend it on yourselves and we think only a small proportion should go to our kids, so they can make their own way in the world,” he says.
Choosing a Willie Nelson track, Blue Skies, to remind him of the night before his wedding to Melinda in 1994, Gates tells Young how they met: “There was a Microsoft meeting in New York and I was the second to last to come and she was the last and she sat down next to me.”
She turned down his initial offers of a date, he says, although he was the world’s most eligible bachelor.
“Neither of us started out thinking that it would turn into something. I was still being fanatical, but then we watched The Sound of Music together, which we both loved, and that’s when it turned serious.”
The track Can Love Survive? from the Broadway version of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical is another of Gates’s Desert Island choices. Its lyrics celebrate the fact that rich people can have a romantic love story too, despite having private planes and international business interests.
As a younger man in charge of Microsoft, Gates once memorised the car number plates of all his employees so he would know who was at work on any day. Marriage to Melinda has tempered this obsessive focus on work, Gates says.
“She changed that and I wanted her to change that. Now we take quite a few vacations. I am sure myself in my 20s would look at my schedule now and find it very wimpy indeed.”
Selecting Steven Pinker’s lengthy work The Better Angels of Our Nature as his book for the island, the castaway says his only truly guilty pleasure in life is his ability to fly around the world in his own plane.
This article was written by Vanessa Thorpe Arts and media correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 31st January 2016 00.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010