Richard Branson Q&A: Mick Jagger’s lyrics suit me – I’ve started a few adventures

The entrepreneur talks ballooning world records, Yuval Noah Harari, and his love of Blue Planet II.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Born in 1950 in Surrey, Richard Branson founded Virgin Records in 1972. The chain grew into a brand that operates across the media, banking, travel and space flight. He lives on a private island in the Caribbean.

What’s your earliest memory?

When I was about four years old, my mum made me get out of the car and ordered me to find my own way home. I got horribly lost, it took a long time, but it certainly taught me independence and resourcefulness at a very young age.

Who was your childhood hero?

Douglas Bader, a pilot who was close with my parents. My sisters and I would play with him – I even stole his prosthetic leg!

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. It made me think a lot about what makes humans human.

Which political figure do you look up to?

The Elders, the group of leaders working together for peace and human rights, whom Peter Gabriel and I brought together. From Archbishop Tutu to Mary Robinson to Kofi Annan, their co-operation, humbleness and tenacity are a constant inspiration to me.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

I love that my career involves moving between different sectors and subjects, but this does mean I’m more of an all-rounder than a specialist! I’d go for ballooning world records: it would be a lot of fun to answer the questions even if I got them wrong!

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

If I had to go back in time, the early days of the great explorers, to be the first to find new lands and experience new adventures.

What TV show could you not live without?

I could live without any TV show, but one of our favourites is Blue Planet II, which has done such a wonderful job of raising awareness about the plight of the ocean.

Who would paint your portrait?

My four grandchildren – I’d love to see how they interpreted their grand-dude in paint.

What’s your theme tune?

I often walk on stage to “Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger’s lyrics work well for somebody who has started a few ventures and adventures.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

If you fall out with anybody, talk to them, forgive them and try to make friends again. Life’s too short for enemies.

What single thing would make your life better?

We’re working on rebuilding Necker and Moskito islands at the moment after the devastating Hurricane Irma. It will be wonderful when this beautiful region and its brilliant people are back on their feet.

When were you happiest?

When I met my wife Joan, when we had our children, when they had their children – and when we all spend time together.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

My first business was editing Student magazine: I saw my future in journalism. Thankfully, I’m able to practise my love of writing on my blog and social media every day, and by writing my autobiography.

Are we all doomed?

Absolutely not. We have huge challenges to face, with climate change top of the list. But I believe in people, and in seeing obstacles as opportunities. I want to leave the world for my grandchildren in better shape than we found it. 

Richard Branson’s autobiography, “Finding My Virginity”, is published by Virgin Books

This article appears in the 27 July 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Summer special