What is the most memorable moment you’ve had that happened over a drink?
Oh my God. It has to involve a woman doesn’t it? I think the first night I took my lovely lady out to dinner. It was a Mexican restaurant, and I gave her a lot of sangria. It worked! [Laughs] And now she is the mother of my children and grandchildren, so that was an important sangria or two or three or four…
With your children Holly and Sam having babies of their own now, have you had a heart-to-heart about work-life balance?
My daughter is the sensible one in our family, so she is the one we go to for advice. She was a trained doctor, and she was head girl at school so she is very, very sensible and fun as well. I don’t need to have a heart-to-heart with her. She has to have a heart-to-heart with her dad occasionally, but I think if I did give them any advice… I do think that getting that balance is very important in life. Play hard, work hard. I play tennis in the morning, tennis in the evening. I kite surf, and I look after the body. If you’re healthy and well everything stems from that and everything is possible, but equally we get those horrendous hangovers occasionally and we do party hard as well.
What is Sir Richard Branson’s hangover cure?
I wish I knew. I’d love there to be a hangover cure.
We ask everyone and no one knows.
Well, let me know when you’ve found it. I’m sure if you drink a gallon of water in between every glass of alcohol you take, you’ll be up all night, but you won’t have a hangover the next day.
If you aren’t drinking tea, what is your drink of choice?
I drink about 30 cups of tea a day. I’m a complete tea addict.
How did recreating the “Twist & Shout” dance scene from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” in the streets of Chicago compare to other company launches and surprises in the past?
Well, were you on the street today? [Laughs] We create quite a lot of fun businesses around the world, and our team works enormously hard to get it right. I look at this beautiful floor [here at Cerise the rooftop bar], all around me. Everything they’ve done is fantastic. The least I can do is make sure people know about it. The team comes up with these wonderful fun ways of putting Virgin Hotels, or whatever it is we are launching, on the map. That was an iconic film; it was Chicago through and through.
Was it the first idea the team pitched?
It was the first idea they pitched to me … My initial reaction was not so much that it was perfect. I could see it being absolutely perfect if I was 25 years old. I’m approaching 65, so I thought, “65 year-old rock ‘n’ rolling?” Then I thought, “Screw it, let’s do it!” They were the most wonderful, fun young dancers, and I think we wrecked a Tesla by jumping on its roof.
Were there any scratches on the Tesla?
I don’t want to look too closely, and we ended up getting the fine from the police afterwards.
Would you say life gets better with age or do you look back at your twenties and want to go back?
I think that as long as you keep healthy and fit I think life gets better with age. I’m loving every minute of my life today. Look, there’s obviously a little bit of me that just occasionally —my wife knows this— would love to just go back 40 years and be outrageously bad and misbehaved. But then that’s in my dreams and I’d quickly be back and married and happy with my grandchildren.
Are you getting used to the name grandpa?
They aren’t old enough yet to say it but it’s going to be granddude. I’ve had three grandchildren all in the last two months, so we are very lucky. We spend lots of time with them, and everybody who has children or grandchildren thinks they’re magical and the most beautiful creatures on Earth and of course they are.
What is a task or chore you enjoy doing that you could pay someone to do?
I enjoy making a cup of tea. But, I also have a lovely lady who makes them a lot for me as well.
Do you have any superstitions?
I’m not superstitious. I don’t really believe in star signs, sorry, or superstitions. I think you make your own superstition to a large extent.
When was the last time you had buyer’s remorse with a material item?
You know, I don’t buy a lot of things. I like to create things. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to build my beautiful island in the Caribbean. I certainly haven’t regretted that. We create things like the Virgin Hotel or Virgin America the airline and different things. Occasionally we fall flat on our face. I suppose starting a rival to Coca-Cola we fell a bit flat on our face there, so you could say that was buyer’s remorse. Starting Virgin Brides —we found there weren’t any— so that closed down pretty quickly. It’s more businesses that don’t work out.
What is one company you’ve funded that really excites you that doesn’t have the Virgin name?
A company like Indiegogo is very exciting. I think crowd sourcing companies will be the future. I was delighted to partly fund that in the early days and lots of great ideas come from Indiegogo. We do fund quite a lot of companies without the Virgin brand: Twitter, Hailo and others. We like to keep our eyes open.
Are you amazed with social media today when you think about how you started your first company before it existed?
I wish social media had existed when I started. Fortunately we were early in on social media. We’ve got 23 million followers, and I take it seriously. I sort of see it as sharing the interesting life I think I lead, sharing ideas, trying to help young entrepreneurs by writing my experiences and sharing some of the fun we have as well.
Has anything changed over the years in regards to what you look for when hiring or deciding who you are going to work with?
I don’t think things have changed really. We look for the kinds of people who genuinely like people and genuinely care about people, who look for the best in people, who bring and draw out the best in people, who don’t criticize people and it hasn’t changed in the last 40 years. If you’re a great leader of people, you’ll create anything and a company is just a group of people, and this hotel is a good example of that. It’s just a group of vibrant people who are proud of what they are doing.
Do you remember the first time you were recognized?
Yeah, I was sort of recognized. I remember walking past a school and this young kid, she was about 9 years old, came up to me and said, “You look just like that Richard Branson,” and I smiled and she said, “Can I say something? You should sign up to a look-a-like agency. You may not make as big of a fortune as him, but you’ll make an absolute fortune.” So anyway, you get a lot of interesting fun things like that.
Can you even remember the last time you went unrecognized walking down the street?
Generally speaking, if I walk down the street, there will be a number of people. Everybody has a camera on their phone these days, everybody wants a selfie or a picture, and the moment one person starts taking a picture everybody congregates around so I’ve become quite a fast walker. I don’t like saying, “No,” to people but by walking fast one might be able to avoid the first photo.
Best party you’ve been to?
I’ve been to a lot of great parties, and if they were as good as I think they were I don’t remember them.
If you could have drink with anyone, who would it be?
George Clooney was asked that question. He said, “Richard Branson.” He said that he thought I led a fun life and my wife of course immediately said, “I’ll swap you for him for 24 hours.” But thinking about that, he’s married to this rather beautiful lady, [Amal Clooney], so I suppose I would like to swap as well. It’s like we are just going to have to have one of those swaps.
Would you say a day like today, when you’re launching a company, is your perfect day or would going off the radar on your island, Necker Island, be the perfect day?
Both. I just love every minute of my life. I love the variety. Every minute of every day I’m meeting fascinating new people, learning and working with wonderful teams of people creating wonderful things. I’m looking at a beautiful lady right now trying to keep my eyes averted. I can see why your website does so well. How did it start and how has it taken off? Has anybody ever said, “No,” to you? What about George Clooney? George, you should say, “Yes!”
George Clooney you are next!
SEE MORE OF THE ACTION AT VIRGIN HOTELS ON “THE VIRGIN VOICE”
KIRSTEN MICCOLI PHOTOGRAPHY / A DRINK WITH
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