Richard Charles Nicholas Branson was born on July 18, 1950, in Surrey, England. His father, Edward James Branson, worked as a barrister. His mother, Eve Branson, was employed as a flight attendant. Richard, who struggled with dyslexia, had a hard time with educational institutions. He nearly failed out of the all-boys Scaitcliffe School, which he attended until the age of 13. He then transferred to Stowe School, a boarding school in Stowe, Buckinghamshire, England.
Still struggling, Branson dropped out at the age of 16 to start a youth-culture magazine called Student. The publication, run by students, sold $8,000 worth of advertising in its first edition, launched in 1966. The first run of 50,000 copies was disseminated for free, with Branson afterward covering the costs through advertising.
By 1969, Branson was living in a London commune, surrounded by the British music and drug scene. It was during this time that Branson had the idea to begin a mail-order record company called Virgin to help fund his magazine efforts. The company performed modestly but well enough for Branson to expand his business venture, with a record shop on Oxford Street, London. With the success of the new store, the high school dropout was able to build a recording studio in 1972 in Oxfordshire, England.
The first artist on the Virgin Records label, Mike Oldfield, recorded his single “Tubular Bells” in 1973 with the help of Branson’s team. The song was an instant smash, staying on the UK charts for 247 weeks. Using the momentum of Oldfield’s success, Branson then signed other aspiring musical groups to the label, including the Sex Pistols. Artists such as the Culture Club, the Rolling Stones and Genesis would follow, helping to make Virgin Music one of the top six record companies in the world.
Branson expanded his entrepreneurial efforts yet again, this time to include the Voyager Group travel company in 1980, the Virgin Atlantic airline in 1984 and a series of Virgin Megastores. However, Branson’s success was not always predictable, and by 1992, Virgin was suddenly struggling to stay financially afloat. The company was sold later that year to Thorn EMI for $1 billion.
Branson was crushed by the loss, reportedly crying after the contract was signed, but remained determined to stay in the music business. In 1993, he founded the station Virgin Radio, and in 1996 he started a second record company, V2, which signed artists such as Powder Finger and Tom Jones.
The Virgin Group eventually reached 35 countries around the world, with nearly 70,000 employees handling affairs in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada, Asia, Europe, South Africa and beyond. He has expanded his businesses to include a train company, a luxury game preserve, a mobile phone company and a space-tourism company, Virgin Galactic.
Branson is also known for his sporting achievements, notably the record-breaking Atlantic crossing in Virgin Atlantic Challenger II in 1986, and the first crossing by hot-air balloon of the Atlantic (1987) and Pacific (1991). He was knighted in 1999 for his contribution to entrepreneurship, and in 2009, he landed at No. 261 on Forbes‘ “World Billionaires” list with his $2.5 billion in self-made fortune, including two private islands.
Virgin Galactic, Voyages and Hotels
In recent years, the ever-adventurous Branson has focused much of his attention on his space-tourism venture. He partnered with Scaled Composites to form The Spaceship Company, which set to work developing a suborbital spaceplane. In April 2013, the project made an impressive leap forward with the test launch of SpaceShipTwo.
Branson was delighted by the success of his spaceship’s first test, telling NBC News that “We’re absolutely delighted that it broke the sound barrier on its very first flight, and that everything went so smoothly.” By April 2013, more than 500 people had reserved tickets to ride on a Virgin Galactic spaceship.
In 2015, Branson announced the launch of Virgin Voyages, a new cruise line. On October 31, 2017, the company commemorated the milestone of laying down the keel for its first ship. Virgin’s cruise ships, designed to hold 2,800 guests and a crew of 1,150, remained on track to debut in 2020.
Additionally, the mogul moved forward with his upstart Virgin Hotels, founded in 2010. In 2018, Virgin announced its presence in Las Vegas by taking over ownership of the Hard Rock Hotel. The company planned to generally maintain the status quo in the hotel before embarking on renovations in 2019.
Branson is married to his second wife, Joan Templeman, with whom he has two children: Holly and Sam. He often stays at his residence on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, even remaining there while Hurricane Irma all but destroyed the island in September 2017.