Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Branson's burn

I don't begrudge Sir Richard Branson his billions, not just because he seems like a very personable and grounded guy, but because he funds such interesting projects. I blogged in May about his establishment of a lemur colony on his private island in the Caribbean and I just read last night about his support of the development of a submarine to descend under the Pacific Ocean 36,000' down to the Mariana Trench. So I was saddened to learn that his 1-bedroom "great house" on Necker Island burned down over the weekend following a lightning strike. In a 2002 interview, the frugal Branson revealed that even his getaway in the British Virgin Islands had to be a business proposition before he considered it buying it. When he isn't there, you can rent the island and its 31 staff at what was then £10,000 a day (description and more photos here). He did, however, consider it a primary residence. "We go there quite a lot. It's almost our real home because when we're in the UK we're all working, and when we're on the island we're relaxing." The recent headline, as you may have heard or read, is that guest Kate Winslet swept Branson's 90-year-old mother up in her arms and carried her out of the fire. In an interview on ABC and on his website, Branson expresses his gratefulness that everyone got out safely, but regret at the loss of his photographs and notebooks. He confirms his intentions to restore the residence, both to keep his staff employed and to host his daughter's upcoming wedding. He writes on his blog yesterday, "Watching the sun rise this morning was surreal and haunting – the true extent of the damage highlighted in the early dawn light. Smoke still rising and what was once our incredibly beautiful Balinese home nothing but ashes. But like a phoenix something beautiful will rise again from those ashes. It will take some time and it will be a few days before we understand the full extent of what is needed but lots of the talk in the middle of the night turned to what we could build, what would it look like, how could we design something even more beautiful. These thoughts kept the emotions at bay and stopped us dwelling on the fact that we had just lost our much beloved home and got us concentrating on the future." This comes as no surprise to a longtime friend of Branson's, who describes: "The most extraordinary thing about Richard is that he doesn’t look over his shoulder, he never looks back, he is resilient and upbeat and despite losing lots of mementos, he will see this as only a small obstacle. The rebuild will begin as soon as possible.”

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