Sir Richard Branson has abandoned his attempt to cross the Atlantic in a single-hulled vessel. The bearded multi-millionaire was aiming to break yet another record.
Bransons record attempts added a bit of colour to the generally bleak news of the 1980s. Jan Leeming getting worked up as she told of the dangers from towering waves and rescues from shark infested waters off the Azores. Sandy Gall forever in a Safari suit, a bottle of Black Label under the news desk, slurring over his words to describe Bransons balloon capacity. In 1986 Branson snatched the coveted Blue Riband (yep, I thought it was a biscuit or is it a bar? as well) by making the fastest crossing of the Atlantic in a boat. A year later, the Pet Shop Boys West End Girls sound-tracking the venture, he crossed the Atlantic again, this time in a hot air balloon. No one had ever done that before.
These are feckless adventures that hark back to another age. When men with huge lamb chop sideburns would head off in search of somewhere to make it more real by being the first Caucasians to light up a cigarette there. Stood to attention next to a fluttering Union Jack, singing ‘God save the Queen’ to make the discovery official and legally binding. Often they only found themselves lending their names to new and deadly tropical diseases. It was the industrial age of discovery. The days of Empire when Britain had accomplished all her ambitions. Phineas Fogg making a wild bet from a Chesterfield arm chair in some smoky gentlemens club to travel around the world whilst hopping, Percy Fawcett trudging off into the jungle to find the lost city of gold. But back then the globe was a mystery. Where did the Nile begin? What was beyond the Atlas mountains? Which is the nearest long stay car park for Bradfords Media Museum? These days Google Maps have sorted all that.
So why does Branson do these things? He has pots of money, his endeavors in business and the arts have made him famous in themselves and by most peoples calculations his life has been a success. So why? Perhaps Robert Louis Stephensons observation hits the mark: to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour. Accomplishment is a void. Triumph a post-orgasmic doldrum. And so Branson lies under his duvet, a model of his latest Pendolino tilting train spooned against his cooling body. And he thinks, But what now?
My abiding image of Branson is not his spraying champagne over a Boeing 737 as he launches Virgin Atlantic or a publicity shot with Johnny Rotten, Steve and the boys when he signed the Sex Pistols, it is in an over-enlarged photograph blue tacd proudly in the window of a Curry House in Cowes on the Isle of Wight. It shows the beaming owner of the restaurant, bald head caught in the flash, a huge smile, grasping Bransons unwitting hand. Bransons almost out of the door and the handshake looks like a baton handover in the 4 x 400 metres. A bemused and vaguely scared look on Bransons face as he nervously regards the proprietor. Bloody hell! Look who it is! Sanjay, the camera! The goatee-wearing businessman nearly out of shot. Mr. Patak launches himself, hand outstretched. Death grip applied. Quick, Sanjay! Take it now! It’s Rick Wakeman!
Sir Richard Branson ponders his next adventure