Richard Branson at 70: the Virgin billionaire’s brashest moments – from buying an island to running a marathon in a butterfly costume

They don’t make billionaires like this anymore: Sir Richard Branson at the Virgin Australia launch party at The Peninsula, Hong Kong, in 2017. Photo: Nora Tam
One of the most recognisable billionaires in the world, Sir Richard Branson rose to fame as the charismatic founder and leader of the multibillion-dollar Virgin Group. Known as a fun-loving daredevil and adventurer, many people look up to him for his accomplishments in and beyond the business world.

As he turns 70 on July 18, we share some of his legendary tales from over the years.

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His former headmaster told him he would end up in prison – or become a millionaire


While a student at Stowe School, Branson boldly told headmaster Robert Drayson how he felt the school should be run. According to Branson’s book, Screw Business As Usual, he gave a lengthy report with suggestions that would help the school save money for use towards Branson’s other proposals.

When he graduated from Stowe, his headmaster said, “Congratulations, Branson – I predict you will either go to prison or become a millionaire.”

He pretended to be rich to get a free trip to Necker Island


In a blog post on the Virgin website, Richard reveals the reason he came to buy Necker Island, his luxury private island.

In the early days of Virgin Records, Richard discovered that he could purchase one of the British Virgin Islands. He called up the property agent and was given an all-expenses paid trip to see the island with his then-girlfriend and now wife, Joan Templeman.

The property agent didn’t know that Richard could not afford to buy the island. When it was revealed to be for sale at a “discounted price” of $US6 million, Richard gave the highest amount he could afford: US$100,000. Needless to say, the agent left them to find their own way back home. He still bought it eventually, though.

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He shares the same birthday as Nelson Mandela, whom he considered a close friend

In an excerpt from his book, Finding my Virginity, Richard described how he looked to Nelson Mandela (whom he called “Madiba”, Nelson’s Xhosa clan name) as a mentor and close friend.

“I have never known anybody transform rooms the way Madiba did, lighting them up with his humour, his humility and his wisdom … Madiba made time for everyone, and had a magical skill for bringing the best out of people,” Richard says.

He ran the London Marathon in a butterfly costume

In 2010, Richard ran the London Marathon in a butterfly costume. He ran at the head of a Guinness World Record-breaking “caterpillar”, where runners were connected two-by-two using bungee cords. Princess Beatrice was also one of the caterpillars.

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He currently holds 7 world records

A daredevil and adventurer, Richard has made several world record attempts, and holds seven under his name, including being the oldest person to cross the English channel on a kiteboard, the fastest crossing of the English channel in an amphibious vehicle, and the first to cross the Atlantic and the Pacific in a hot-air balloon.

As Richard Branson turns 70, he doesn’t show much sign of slowing down any time soon.

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His headmaster thought he’d end up in prison or a millionaire, but even still, the Virgin tycoon and adventurer Sir Richard Branson has exceeded expectations