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Illustration of Virgin Group founder and philanthropist Richard Branson. (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail/Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Illustration of Virgin Group founder and philanthropist Richard Branson. (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail/Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

The Lunch

Richard Branson: Swimming with sharks Add to ...

Portugal is the drug-control model he likes. “In the last 10 years, they have not sent one person to prison for taking drugs and HIV infections have dropped by 50 per cent. They give out clean needles, they build treatment centres, marijuana use among young people has declined and society has saved a lot of money,” he says.

He hopes that, at minimum, marijuana sales can be legalized and taxed, producing a potentially lavish income stream that could fund social programs, such as building treatment centres for the users of hard drugs. When I tell him I find it impossible to imagine that the United States would ever replicate the Portuguese model, he sighs, as if in agreement.

He hasn’t lost his sense of mischief, in spite of his effort to become the Saint Richard Among Billionaires. He recently launched Virgin Volcanic, complete with elaborate Web pages, which promised the capability “of plunging three people into the molten lava core of an active volcano.”

An embarrassing number of media outlets failed to notice the April 1 release date. “I still am getting requests for interviews from all over the world,” he says with a chuckle.

CURRICULUM VITAE

Beginnings

Born in Blackheath, London, in 1950.

At age 16, launches his first business, Student magazine, to protest the Vietnam War.

Career

Music, through Virgin Records, dominates the first 20 years of his career. Artists include the Sex Pistols, Boy George, Mike Oldfield, Steve Winwood, Janet Jackson and the Rolling Stones.

Personal

Has written four books on his career and business philosophy, the newest being Screw Business as Usual, which, according to the author, urges businesses “to switch from a just profit focus, to caring for people, communities and the planet.”

Has 2.1 million Twitter followers.

Owns the 74-acre Necker Island, his British Virgin Islands home and resort. Bought in 1979 for a mere £165,000, mainly to impress a girl, Joan Templeman, who would become his wife.

Hobbies

Kite surfing and all things dangerous, from deep sea exploration to diving with sharks.

Loves tennis, skiing and sailing.

Next chapter

Plans to be among the first six passengers, with his two children, next year on maiden space flight of Virgin Galactic.

Single page

Follow on Twitter: @ereguly

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