Skip to main content


Simone Filippetti journalist of Il Sole 24 Ore

Even if I have no idea where I'm going or how to get there, I prefer to say yes instead of no

Richard Branson

On a grey and sunless morning, a typical spring day in London, in April 2019 Richard Branson, british tycoon and billionaire, was strolling across Green Park, shaking hands and having selfies with people. The London Marathon had just finished: one of the most relevant athletic competition in the world was once again held thanks to its main sponsor, Virgin Money, the bank owned by Sir Branson himself. He did not actually founded the bank from scratch: he just overtook the ruined Northern Rock, a uk bank went burst after the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008, and renamed it.

What even a forward-looking and futuristic man such as the english mogul could not predict was that his people bathing in 2019 would have been his last for many years come. That was the last marathon before Covid closed down the entire world.

London-born, blonde and fuzzy hairdo, flamboyant, eclectic, always donning a wide smile, eternally in and out of trouble, making headlines for over two decades whenever he moves or speaks. Sounds like a description about Boris Johnson? Wrong. It’s the self-made millionaire Branson.

Almost every single person in UK, and in many western countries have at least once in their lifetime bought something from the British mogul: listening to a rock song while driving home in the car; playing a video-game; flying to somewhere; opening a bank account; sipping alternative to Coca-Cola; or struggling on a treadmill to burn that damn one-too-much pint from the last night at pub. And, finally, in a near future, maybe also going to the moon.


In the summer of 1969, an astronaut called Neal Armstrong is taking his “one small step for man, but giant leap for mankind” as he was planting the “stars and stripes” flags on the lunar surface for the first time in history. Thousand miles away, in Lewisham, a boring and dull London outskirt, a 16-year-old teenager launched his first venture, not knowing that some fifty years later he would be travelling to outer-space too. While most of his school-mates were “chasing” girls, Branson was chasing dreams. He had an idea of a magazine called Student. It featured interviews with famous people: the first issue alone brought in approximately £6,000 in advertising revenue: a star was born.

Times seemed right and so the boy from south-east London decided to devote his full time in promoting his new endeavour rather than attending school. In hindsight, this was probably the best decision he could have made for himself.

After the initial success of Student, and guided by his passion for music, the blond-haired prodigy launched a small music venture and initially based it out of the magazine’s office as his primary trade-space. The new company Branson and his group of twenty employees started was named Virgin.


The Seventies are the Golden Era of Disco music, of mini-skirts and bell bottoms: it’s the outcome of the flower-power revolution, free-love and the 1968 cultural revolution. It is also, but less known, the decade where future billionaires make their first steps: Bill Gates founds Microsoft; Steve Jobs creates Apple, and across the “pond” Branson is expanding his Virgin brand. From one record store in Oxfordshire to the global Virgin empire. Kids in surburban areas are amused by a new tv station which broadcasts music videoclips all day long: they love these artists and they want to own their music. The first Virgin Record store quickly turned into two and two then ramped up to fourteen. The company is taking-off and money starts pouring in. At the very young age of 23, the not-so-humble origin Branson, son of a barrister - Edward James, and ballet dancer-turned air hostess, Eve, earns his first million. The music stores expand to become a music company: Virgin Records, with its own recording studio “The Manor”, is so big it signs a rock band founded in the same years Branson started by a well-off kid from Richmond, South-west London, named Mick Jagger. The Rolling Stones, living music legends, in 1992 abandoned their historic own label to join Virgin Records: Branson offered them a stunning 44 million dollars contract. “The most memorable part of signing the Rolling Stones was the hangover I had the day after,” he told after having celebrated the deal at London’s posh Mosimann’s dining club.

However, more than the “sticky fingers” of Sir Jagger &Co, it was the fingers, on a keyboard, of cult-musician Mike Oldfield that made the fortune of Virgin Records. His masterpiece, and monster-hit, “Tubular Bells”, sound-track to “The Exorcist”, the most successful movies of the 70’s, sold over 5 million copies: Branson had another smasher.   

If Your Dreams Don’t Scare You, They Are Too Small

Richard Branson


Branson states in his memoir "Losing My Virginity" that he and Nik Powell (his original business partner and co-founder of the Virgin Group) were "virgins in the business" when they opened that first record shop. The name, a self-ironic acknowledgment of their lack of experience, was the start of a big success story. Over 40 companies in over 35 countries around the world.

In the 80s and 90s, Virgin Group was expanding its fields of businesses and consequently, its global reach allowing Branson to make some extraordinary purchases and start living the millionaire’s high-life, including his very own “slice” of secluded paradise: he bought Necker Island, part of the British Virgin Islands, for an allegedly sum of 180,000 £: a real bargain.

His property portfolio (as his fortune) has become staggering over the years. Wild and unspoiled islands in the Caribbean’s crystal-clear Ocean, exotic and stunning retreats and residences in Kenya, Morocco, South Africa and Spain. Luxurious and cosy mountain cabins in the Swiss Alps, and of course, like any A-lister whose name is worth mentioning, an opulent villa in one of Italy’s favourite destination, Lake Como.

The super-rich among the rich, he is always trying to find more “creative and adventurous” ways to spend his 4-billion-dollar fortune being it riding an amphibious car from England to France; crossing the Pacific from Japan to Canada in a hot air balloon; jumping from a Casino in Las Vegas (dressed in a tuxedo like James Bond would); flying into space onboard the passenger rocket plane VSS Unity. You’re not a coward couch-potato: it’s that you’re just not rich enough.


In 1984, Branson joined forces with the attorney Randolph Fields to launch what would become one of his most successful businesses to date: Virgin Atlantic. Offering excellent customer service and never before seen in-flight amenities, such as complimentary ice cream, seat-back television screens, and massages, the airline quickly rose to the top of its industry. Other airlines did not appreciate the competition. In 1992, while toasting with Sir Jagger, Virgin's larger competitor, British Airways, engaged a battle against the newcomer. Branson had to choose: airplanes or records. If he wanted to maintain Virgin Atlantic viable and flying, he had to sell off Virgin Records. Which he did, sadly soon after he struck the Rolling Stones deal. The price? 1 billion dollars.  

Branson wanted revenge and the year after he filed a lawsuit against British Airways for libel: it was successful, and in 1993 a judge ordered BA to refund Brason with 1 million dollars in damages, in addition to legal fees estimated to be approximately $3 million, and that they issue a public apology. BA admitted "dirty tricks" against Virgin Atlantic. The “revolutionary” way of combining luxurious yet affordable long-haul flights, faced a hard time tough, because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But early 2000s was again good news for Branson: he was being Knighted at Buckingham Palace by Charles, Prince of Wales while Times magazine puts his name in the list of “100 most influential people in the world”.


Who wants to be a millionaire with Sir Branson?
It is all about note-taking. The magnate religiously believes in committing one’s objectives to paper in order to, not only ensure that they remain at the forefront of our minds, but that we can also focus on and pinpoint areas on which to concentrate and achieve our individual success.

Richard Branson, who is worth billions of dollars, is known to be an avid note-taker and is responsible for fostering a "notebook culture" at Virgin – he has states that “An idea not written down is an idea lost” and that “When inspiration calls, you've got to capture it.”

Browsing the “2022 UK Rich List” compiled by The Times, “Doctor Yes” is one of the richest men in th country: he is credited with an overall wealth worth  4,2 billion £. He added 410 millions more on last year’s reports.

(additional reporting by Marianna Civitillo)



About the author

AQA Capital

This site uses cookies to improve navigation: if you continue without changing your browser settings, you will accept to receive cookies from the site and from third parties. Cookie Policy