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Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 16:14 GMT
Branson's luck runs out
Richard Branson in Las Vegas
Sir Richard plays the King in Las Vegas
Sir Richard Branson is one of Britain's most colourful entrepreneurs, with close links to government and a flair for publiciity.

He is used to betting for high stakes -and although he has often lost he usually manages to find a way to come on top.

His daredevil streak was shown by his bid to break the speed record for crossing the Atlantic by boat in l985. Barely 100 miles from home, the boat had hit some floating driftwood and rapidly sank.

Later he set out to be the first to cross the Atlantic by hot air balloon. That trip too nearly ended in disaster.

It was in 1994 that the Virgin Group chairman first made a bid to run the National Lottery, promising to give all the profits to charity - and lost. Two years later he sensationally alleged a rival had tried to bribe him to withdraw from the race.

He and GTech, the American lottery company, ended up suing each other for libel over the allegation: Sir Richard won.

The desire to run the lottery - and his plans to give all the profits away to good causes - did not go away.

Rough ride

Sir Richard's "People's Lottery" put the wind up the lottery licence process from the start.

When he first put himself forward to run the National Lottery in 1994, Sir Richard paraded through the streets with equine superstar Desert Orchid.

Though then he fell at the final hurdle, Sir Richard got back in the saddle when Camelot's licence came up for grabs.

With Camelot portraying itself as the experienced "safe hands", Sir Richard slipped into the familiar role of popular showman.
How the bids stack up
People's Lottery
15bn for good causes
Revamped main game with six numbers from 53, and a new 'Millionaire's Game'
Harder to scoop big jackpots; easier to win 1m
More rollovers
Non-profit
Camelot
15bn for good causes
Main game unchanged: six numbers from 49
Pledge to cut 1% profit take
With Desert Orchid out to pasture, the Virgin boss delivered his proposal to the commission flanked by huge inflatable lottery balls, a sodden jazz band, and actors dressed as nurses, firemen and barristers - Sir Richard's notion of "the people".

This razzmatazz was presumably intended to back up Sir Richard's boast that he could inject some fun into the flagging institution.

After all, if the daredevil businessman could make handing in a fistful of documents look enjoyable, what could he do for the UK's multi-million pound weekly flutter?

Winning idea

Sir Richard has added further drama to the licence bid by saying that he would not throw his hat in the ring a third time - should he lose.

A declaration indeed from the man who claims to have come up with the whole lottery idea in 1988 - over tea with Mrs Thatcher.

Barbara Bloomfield, the editor of Lottery Monitor magazine, says the commission's decision would have nothing to do with how good a show Sir Richard put on.

"It had nothing to do with showmanship. The guiding principal was how much would go to the good causes," she says.

"Richard Branson's bid was more generous to causes than Camelot - he would have won it were it not for the problems with the committal fund [a guaranteed pool to ensure winners are paid]."

Sir Richard was at pains to brand his bid as one for the general good of the UK, not for the good of his consortium's bank account.

He said players wanted to feel "proud" of buying a ticket and were tired of entering "out of greed, not to benefit the country".

Golden touch

Multi-millionaire Branson has spent the last 30 years in the public eye.

He received the ultimate accolade of a knighthood in the New Year's honours list.

Richard Branson
Richard Branson launches Virgin's mobile phone
It was the just latest triumph for the businessman, who started life as a hippie entrepreneur with a flair for publicity.

Born in 1950 and educated at Stowe School, he went into business at 16, publishing Student magazine.

In 1972 he founded Virgin as a mail order record company and opened his first store, in London's Oxford Street.

Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, recorded in an Oxfordshire barn and released in 1973, caught the laid-back flavour of the era to become a phenomenal best-seller.

When punk came along, Virgin signed the outrageous Sex Pistols when other record companies refused to touch them. The move turned out to be a marketing coup.

Virgin Atlantic
Branson sold 49% of Virgin Atlantic for 600m
In 1984 he took his biggest gamble yet and launched an airline, with a single Jumbo jet shuttling across the Atlantic. British Airways tried to throttle this upstart competitor.

Virgin alleged dirty tricks: the courts agreed, humiliating British Airways and confirming him as a popular hero.

He floated his company on the Stock Exchange, but the Branson style didn't fit the way City institutions expected public companies to behave. So he bought the company back from the shareholders.

To find the money he had to sell his precious Virgin Records to Thorn-EMI. Even so the price, agreed in 1992, was huge, at almost 500m.

The Virgin bandwagon roared on as he won important franchises in the country's rail network.

Basking in the reflected glory of Tony Blair's 1997 general election victory, he promised to make the country's railway system the best in the world, though Virgin's reputation for quality was damaged by his trains' poor record.

The sale of 49% of Virgin Atlantic to Singapore Airlines at the end of 1999 for nearly 1bn gave Branson a way to raise hundreds of millions of pounds and avoid the pinstriped suits in the Square Mile.

It also helped to boost another venture - Virgin Mobile phones. His attempt to cash in on of the hottest new sectors of the economy received the bulk of the cash from his sale of the airline. In the next three years he is hoping to have the first global mobile phone company.


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