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Last Updated: Monday, 27 September, 2004, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Profile: Richard Branson

Richard Branson and model of spaceliner
Richard Branson's latest adventure will take Virgin into space

Sir Richard Branson started business life as a hippy entrepreneur with a flair for publicity.

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

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.

Lottery attempt

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, retail, internet, drinks, hotels and leisure, with around 200 companies in over 30 countries.

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

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.

A year later the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was congratulating him on the fastest ever Atlantic crossing in a new boat, but it was not enough.

Soon he was setting out to be the first to cross the Atlantic by hot air balloon. That trip, too, nearly ended in disaster.

At journey's end the balloon, out of control, repeatedly ditched in the Irish Sea. Sir Richard and his pilot, Per Lindstrand, jumped. Once more he was plucked from the water.


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 500million.

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
Meanwhile, the Virgin bandwagon rolled on as he won important franchises in the country's rail network, taking over CrossCountry and West Coast Main Line.

In 1999 the married father-of-two was knighted for "services to entrepreneurship."

In 2000 Virgin launched a series of new businesses including Virgin Cars, Virgin Wines, Virgin Student, Virgin Money.com, Virgin Energy and Virgin Travelstore.com.

The next year Virgin Trains ran its first "Pendolino" tilting train on the West Coast Main Line with passengers on board.

In April 2004 fare-paying passengers travelled for the first time on the Virgin Super Voyager tilting train, which ran between Reading and Manchester.

However, large sections of rail had to be upgraded before the trains could actually use their tilting facility. Scheduled tilting services began in September 2004.

In June, 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.

He and fellow adventurer Steve Fossett also unveiled an aircraft designed to attempt the first solo-piloted non-stop trip around the world without re-fuelling.

Then, the final frontier.

In September 2004, Sir Richard signed a 14m contract to have five "spaceliners" built in the US, set to take Virgin passengers into space by around 2008.

Virgin boss in space tourism bid
27 Sep 04  |  Science/Nature
Hopes soar for solo record plane
14 Aug 04  |  Science/Nature
Virgin boss loses rail line bid
08 Jul 04  |  England
Branson sets cross-Channel record
14 Jun 04  |  Coventry/Warwickshire
Branson tops the poll
15 Oct 03  |  Business
Branson gives staff Virgin paradise
16 May 03  |  Business

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