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Redefiners come in all shapes and sizes, but if there was an ultimate Redefiner that embodies challenging the status quo despite the naysayers, that hat would most definitely go to Sir Richard Branson.
“I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars,” he famously said as he journeyed into space. “Now I'm an adult in a spaceship looking down to our beautiful Earth. To the next generation of dreamers: if we can do this, just imagine what you can do.”
A teenager who suffered dyslexia and left school at 15, a daredevil, an entrepreneur, a risk-taker, a rule-breaker, a problem solver, a modern businessman, an adventurer, a record maker, an environmentalist, and now a space traveller who has long been known as Dr Yes for his “Screw it, let’s do it” attitude.
Ahead of the release of the HBO docuseries, Branson, our CEO & Founder, Lyndsey Simpson, sat down with Sir Richard at the brand spanking new Virgin Hotel in New York to talk about life, ageing, retirement (or rather, his desire to never retire), tips for over-50s entrepreneurs and what he’s planning to do next.
At 72 years of age, it will likely not surprise you at all that Branson has no plans to “slow down” anytime soon. In fact, he also released an updated version of his 2017 autobiography Finding My Virginity the week before we filmed this interview.
“I mean, I just enjoy life. And the idea of going from doing what I enjoy to not doing anything at all actually is not something that appeals to me,” he tells Lyndsey when she asked about his thoughts on retirement.
“As long as you look after yourself, I think you can keep going for a long, long time. Two weeks ago, I climbed Mount Kenya and interestingly you can find time to do extreme things like that, as well as, building businesses. You’ve got to learn the art of getting good people around you and delegating. Getting that balance in life is important.”
For the independent HBO documentary, by doc veteran Chris Smith, interviews with the Redefiner and founder of the Virgin group of companies, were filmed at his island getaway in the British Virgin Islands back in July 2021, just days before his long-awaited Virgin Galactic lift off.
A disruptor to the very core, who is passionate about creating things, the documentary covers the early days of Virgin Atlantic when Richard took on the big guns at British Airways. At the time, many did not take him seriously as a businessman with his music industry beginnings, optimism, shaggy hair and jeans and leather jackets not suits. Not to mention he lived on a houseboat where he conducted most of his meetings.
“The series has captured the pinnacle moments of my life – without glossing over the challenges, sleepless nights, moments of intense fear, heartbreak, and days where everything just felt impossible,” says Richard Branson.
From outsider to wealthy capitalist, the doco shows Branson as the ultimate Redefiner who had a dream and a hell of a lot of determination. Charting Branson’s early years and the influence of his iconoclastic mother Eve, through to starting Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic – among countless other businesses – the documentary chronicles Virign Atlantic’s battle with British Airways, ending in a libel suit win for Branson. It was ultimately this same kind of resilience that led Branson to realise his ultimate dream, space.
He may have accomplished his childhood vision, but he’s not done yet and candles on the birthday cake aren’t standing in his way.
When Lyndsey asked about how he feels about ageing, he replied: “I really don’t think age is relevant,” he continues, laughing, “The only time I realise that I am not in my 20s is when I look in a mirror. Otherwise, I still think I am in my 20s or 30s. So I’ve just got rid of all of the mirrors in the house.”
If you’re after the ultimate tale of a Redefiner, it's an absolute must-watch.
Branson, the four-part docuserious, is on Sky Sky Documentaries and streaming service NOW. What a life. What a story.
“I’ve been fortunate to have lived an incredibly full life and I regret absolutely nothing.”
“I might have made a dreadful, dreadful mistake, but unless we try, we definitely won’t succeed, so we might as well have a try.”
“The brave they may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all.”
“Your life is not wasted if you’ve learnt a lot and you shared it. If you’ve learnt a lot and you don’t share your life, I personally think you’ve somewhat wasted your life.”
“I wish you could all be up here enjoying it with us because it’s the beginning of a great adventure.”
“Almost everything that has happened in my life has been instinctual and not premeditated. Often, I’ve ended up doing things because I was frustrated by an experience and I thought, screw that I can do it better and I can put it right.”
“My mum tried to get us over our shyness by telling us that we should be able to stand on our own two feet and perform and entertain people. But I had a shy streak in me, which I’ve sort of trained to overcome.”