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Last Updated: Monday, 26 November 2007, 11:05 GMT
Profile: Richard Branson
Sir Richard Branson in New York
Sir Richard Branson says it is time for a fresh start at Northern Rock

Sir Richard Branson's bid to buy troubled bank Northern Rock is the latest in a series of bold manoeuvres by the UK's best-known businessman.

Northern Rock has confirmed that the consortium led by Branson's Virgin Group is its preferred buyer for the bank.

Sir Richard's recent career has centred on bringing his trusted Virgin brand to troubled businesses or sectors.

The Virgin name is already used to promote trains and cable television and soon it could be plastered on the branches of Northern Rock. However, Branson has not always had billions to rescue troubled businesses.

In the early days of Virgin, he and his staff would hide and pretend to be out when there were demands for bills to be paid.

Richard Branson and model of spaceliner
Another Branson adventure will take Virgin into space

Born in 1950 and educated at Stowe School, he went into business at 16, publishing "Student" magazine and starting business life as a hippy entrepreneur with a flair for publicity.

By the age of 20, he was the subject of a television documentary.

Having originally founded Virgin as a mail order record company, he later opened his first store in London's Oxford Street. The Virgin Records music label was formed in 1972.

Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, recorded in Virgin's first recording studio - an Oxfordshire barn - and released in 1973, caught the laidback 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.

Media tart?

Many other stars were signed up, including Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Simple Minds and The Rolling Stones, making Virgin Records a major player in the international music business.

Since then Virgin has expanded into air and rail travel, mobile phones, finance, weddings, retail, drinks, hotels and gymnasiums with around 200 companies in over 30 countries employing more than 25,000 people.

Virgin Radio, the first national commercial rock music station, was launched on to the airwaves in 1993 and sold to Chris Evans in 1997.

Among its latest businesses are the development of Virgin Galactic - its space tourism business.

Richard Branson at the launch of his Virgin Bride store in London
Sir Richard has never been shy of seeking publicity

Never one to miss a publicity opportunity Sir Richard has been pictured in a wedding dress and snapped with Pamela Anderson (at the launch of a cola drink in a bottle shaped like the model), Diana, Princess of Wales and Nelson Mandela.

But perhaps nothing has got his name in the headlines more than his daredevil antics.

In 1985, Sir Richard set out from New York to beat the record for crossing the Atlantic by boat, but barely a hundred miles from home the boat had hit some floating driftwood and sank.

Sir Richard and the crew had to be plucked from the sea but the escapade made him and his company household names.

Years later, and with more transatlantic achievements completed in the meantime, Sir Richard set the record for the fastest crossing of the English Channel by an amphibious vehicle to mark the 20th anniversary of Virgin Atlantic in 2004.

Showman

In the mid-1980s the Branson company was floated 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 Virgin Records to Thorn-EMI. Even so the price, agreed in 1992, was huge, at almost 500m.

In 1994 Sir Richard made a bid to run the National Lottery, promising to give all the profits to charity, and lost. He lost a second attempt in 1999.

Sir Richard Branson and a Pendolino tilting train
Virgin first carried paying passengers on a tilting train in 2001

There then followed a series of bold deals which added Virgin's name to businesses that had previously gained reputations for poor customer service.

The first target was Britain's post-privatisation railways where Sir Richard formed a joint venture with Stagecoach to create Virgin Trains, which won the Cross-Country and West Coast Main Line franchises.

The rail business did have problems. Virgin Trains bought the "Pendolino" tilting train for the West Coast Main Line but large sections of rail had to be upgraded before the trains could actually use their tilting facility.

Virgin also had punctuality problems in the early part of this decade which have since improved.

Sir Richard also launched Virgin Mobile, which he last year agreed to merge with NTL to form Virgin Media.

The deal made Sir Richard the largest shareholder in the combined group but what NTL's management really wanted was the Virgin name to revive the company's reputation.

They agreed to pay Sir Richard 0.25% of the company's revenues over the next 30 years - currently about 9m-a-year.

So while Virgin Media has since clashed with Sky, its biggest competitor, Sir Richard's fortune has continued to increase.

He rose to ninth in the Sunday Times Rich List in 2007 with an estimated fortune of 3.1bn and has an empire embracing financial products, trains, planes, mobile phones, the internet and holidays.

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