Branson’s pickle: Is this the end of Virgin as we know it?

The coronavirus crisis hasn’t been kind to the Virgin coffers, or public image. Do Richard Branson’s space-centric ventures hold the key to the company’s future?

In 2011 the Great House, part of the $10 million Necker Island retreat owned by Richard Branson, caught fire after being hit by lightning during Tropical Storm Irene. Among the 20 guests who escaped unharmed from the fire was the actress Kate Winslet who reportedly carried Branson’s then 87-year old mother from the flames. Six years later, in September 2017, Hurricane Irma hit the island, destroying most of the infrastructure.

“I have never seen anything like this hurricane. Necker and the whole area have been completely and utterly devastated,” Branson said at the time.

Before Branson bought the island for $120,000 in 1978 (he now charges from $3,500 per room per night, or $87,500 to book the entire island), Daily Telegraph journalists Don McCullin and Andrew Alexander spent 15 days of a planned three weeks on the island for an article having “hoisted the red flag” due to the inhospitable conditions. According to McCullin, “The mosquitos and other insects were more venomous and persistent than any I had encountered in Vietnam or the Congo.”

All of which begs the question why would the British Government consider the hurricane-prone tropical island as collateral against a £600 million loan to bail out Branson’s struggling Virgin Atlantic airline? Yet this was exactly the proposal floated by Branson this April as Virgin Atlantic took a massive blow when coronavirus grounded air travel.

Reports that Branson has sold more than £400 million worth of Virgin Galactic stock in order to save the airline suggest a desperate bid to save the company, possibly at the expense of Virgin’s space-bound future.

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