Richard Branson: My family values

The entrepreneur on being encouraged to stand on his own two feet from an early age and the joys of a close-knit family

I grew up in Shamley Green, a very small village in Surrey. My mother, Eve, worked as an air hostess before she met my father. My dad, Ted, very much wanted to be an archaeologist but it was the family tradition to go into law.

My parents met at a dance and were married in October 1949. My early years I remember as being very loving and supportive. My mother gave us a lot of freedom to go out and explore. We weren’t allowed to watch television. My mother was always busy doing something – she made wooden tissue boxes and waste paper bins to sell to shops to supplement my father’s income. She encouraged us to stand on our own two feet and went to extraordinary lengths to do that. Most likely if she were to do it today, she would get arrested. One time, when I was four or five, she stopped the car on the way home, made me get out and told me to find my way home back from my grandmother’s house. I remember getting lost, but eventually making it home.

My mother’s father, Rupert, was a sculptor who had done well enough in the City to retire at 28 and move to Devon. We used to visit them there – he had a little apple farm and kept bees. My mother’s mother lived to be 99 and hit a hole in one when she was 90. My dad’s father was a judge. He lived in Suffolk but he died when I was very young. I remember my grandmother was very gentle, quite conservative.

When I was seven, I was sent away to board at Scaitcliffe preparatory school in Windsor Great Park. I was physically sick the first night away from home and struggled to cope with this change in my life. My father had been sent away at that age; it was horribly young, looking back now, to be separated from my family. I didn’t do well academically. I was dyslexic, but in those days no one really knew anything about that disorder.

At 15, I hit upon the idea to start an interschool student magazine. My dad, who had been forced into a career path he didn’t want, didn’t oppose me leaving school at 16, although I think my parents were concerned for my future. I threw myself into the task of launching the project, overcoming my dyslexia in the process.

In my early 20s I got married but that union didn’t last. We were probably a bit too young. I’m still friends with my ex and her children get on well with mine. My second wife, Joan, decided that we should have children; I think most women make that choice for men. Our first baby was born premature and died at four days. It was a sad time, but having another child helped us heal. I was present for the birth of my daughter, Holly, which was an amazing experience but, sadly, missed my son Sam’s birth.

My parents taught me not to criticise people, to always look for the best in people, to be a good listener and to throw yourself wholeheartedly into life. I hope Joan and I have passed those values on to our children.

My father died last year, aged 93, but my mother is still going strong. On her 90th birthday she organised a charity polo match in Morocco, which made £300,000 for her foundation.

My family means the world to me, much more so than business. We are lucky to be very close-knit and that cousins, nephews and nieces all get along. Being a grandparent is going to be a lot of fun. Both Holly and Sam’s wife are having children in 2015, so I’m looking forward to spoiling them and seeing my family’s happiness increase.

The Virgin Way – How to Listen, Learn, Laugh and Lead by Richard Branson is published by Virgin Books, £20

Roz Lewis

The GuardianTramp

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