As famous for his thrill-seeking lifestyle and publicity stunts as he is for his vast business empire, Richard Branson has set his sights on the stars as he prepares for the takeoff of his first space flight.
Ahead of this weekend’s mission to Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity, the avowed Star Trek fan attributed his drive and taste for adventure to his mother Eve, who died of Covid in January.
“I have always been a dreamer. My mother taught me to never give up and to aim for the stars, ”said the 70-year-old, born in London.
The boss of the Virgin Group, whose fortune stands at $ 5.7 billion (£ 4.1 billion, 4.8 billion euros) according to Forbes magazine, made his first fortune in the industry of the record in the 1970s.
He has since launched a series of successful businesses in industries as diverse as railroads and cellphones, as well as Virgin Atlantic airlines.
But there have been a lot of missteps.
Its failures include a short-lived Formula 1 racing attempt, a stab in the soft drink market with Virgin Cola and a marriage company called Virgin Bride, which some have said only existed because of her name.
– Breakthrough ‘Tubular Bells’ –
Branson was reportedly an below average student with dyslexia, with his headmaster at a private school in the south of England apparently telling him he would either go to jail or become a millionaire.
He created Virgin Records when he was only 20 and earned his first million pounds three years later, buying his own Caribbean island a few years later.
The record company’s breakthrough came with “Tubular Bells,” a 1973 instrumental album by British musician Mike Oldfield, which sold millions of copies.
His mother was a flight attendant, so maybe he was following in his family’s footsteps when he started his airline in 1984.
But his business practices and publicity stunts have since irritated many.
In 2006, it emerged that Virgin Atlantic and British Airways had engaged in price fixing, although their company avoided any sanctions because they had warned the authorities.
And last year he asked the UK government for £ 500million to help Virgin Atlantic weather the economic fallout from the Covid lockdown, despite paying no income tax in Britain for more. of a decade.
Politicians accused him of “milking the system”.
In 2012, a columnist for The Guardian compared him to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange “in the sense that they both believe the world revolves around them.”
Ironic as Branson tried and failed repeatedly to become the first person to circle the world nonstop in a balloon.
– ‘Space is hard’ –
At the age of 28, Branson bought Necker Island, where he hosted lavish parties and getaways for celebrities and political leaders, including former US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle.
Much of Branson’s publicity over the years has been based on his adventures, in which he broke a number of speedboat, balloon, and even amphibious car records.
These exploits brought him to the brink of tragedy in 1998, when he and his co-pilot were forced to drop their balloon into the Pacific Ocean after low pressure forced the craft down.
His efforts in recent years have focused on his space tourism business, founded in 2004 and based in the Mojave Desert in California.
Branson, who was knighted in 2000 for his services to entrepreneurship, had hoped to join a commercial flight with Virgin Galactic as early as 2009.
But its timeline has been hit by a series of delays, including a tragic accident in 2014 that claimed the life of a test pilot.
“Space is tough, but it’s worth it. We will persevere and move forward together, ”he said after the accident.
© 2021 AFP