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In July 2012, Branson announced plans to build an orbital space launch system designated LaunchOne.
Four commercial customers have already contracted for launches and two companies are developing standardised satellite buses optimised to the design of LauncherOne, in expectation of business opportunities created by the new smallsat launcher.
Virgin Rail continues to operate the West Coast line.
World Record Attempts
A 1998 attempt at an around-the-world balloon flight by Branson, Fossett, and Lindstrand ends in the Pacific Ocean on 25 December 1998.
Richard Branson made several world record-breaking attempts after 1985, when in the spirit of the Blue Riband he attempted the fastest Atlantic Ocean crossing.
His first attempt in the “Virgin Atlantic Challenger” led to the boat capsizing in British waters and a rescue by RAF helicopter, which received wide media coverage.
In 1986, in his “Virgin Atlantic Challenger II”, with sailing expert Daniel McCarthy, he beat the record by two hours. A year later his hot air ballon ”Virgin Atlantic Flyer” crossed the Atlantic.
In January 1991, Branson crossed the Pacific from Japan to Arctic Canada, 6,700 miles (10,800 km), in a balloon of 2,600,000 cubic feet (74,000 m3). This broke the record, with a speed of 245 miles per hour (394 km/h).
In late 1998 they made a record-breaking flight from Morocco to Hawaii but were unable to complete a global flight before Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones in Breitling Orbiter 3 in March 1999.
In March 2004, Branson set a record by travelling from Dover to Calais in a Gibs Aquada in 1 hour, 40 minutes and 6 seconds, the fastest crossing of the English Channel in an amphibious vehicle.
In September 2008, Branson and his children made an unsuccessful attempt at an Eastbound record crossing of the Atlantic ocean under sail in the 99 feet (30 m) sloop Virgin Money.
After 2 days, 4 hours, winds of force 7 to 9 (strong gale), and seas of 40 feet (12 m), a ‘monster wave’ destroyed the spinnaker, washed a ten-man life raft overboard and severely ripped the mainsail.
Television, Film, and Print
Branson has guest starred, usually playing himself, on several television shows, including Friends, Baywatch, Birds of a Feather, Only Fools and Horses, The Day Today, a special episode of the comedy Goodness Gracious Me andTripping Over.
Branson made several appearances during the nineties on the BBC Saturday morning show Live and Kicking, where he was referred to as ‘the pickle man’. Branson also appears in a cameo early in XTC’s “Generals and Majors” video.
He has a cameo appearance in several films: Around the World in 80 Days (2004), where he played a hot-air balloon operator; Superman Returns, where he was credited as a ‘Shuttle Engineer’ and appeared alongside his son, Sam, with a Virgin Galactic-style commercial suborbital shuttle at the centre of his storyline.
He also has a cameo in the James film Casino Royale. Here, he is seen as a passenger going through Miami airport security check-in and being frisked – several Virgin Atlantic planes appear soon after. British Airways edited out Branson’s cameo in their in-flight screening of the movie.
In March 2008 he launched Virgin Mobile in India and during that period, he even played a cameo performance in a Bollywood film London Dreams.
In 2012, Branson became a LinkedIn Influencer.
In the late 1990s, Branson and musician Peter discussed with the late Nelson Mandela their idea of a small, dedicated group of leaders, working objectively and without any vested personal interest to solve difficult global conflicts.
On 18 July 2007, in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nelson Mandela announced the formation of a new group, The Elders, in a speech he delivered on the occasion of his 89th birthday.
Kofi Annan serves as Chair of The Elders and Gro Harlem Brundtland as Deputy Chair. Desmond Tutu is an Honorary Elder. Nelson Mandela was an Honorary Elder. The Elders is independently funded by a group of donors, including Branson and Gabriel.
The Elders use their collective skills to catalyse peaceful resolutions to long-standing conflicts, articulate new approaches to global issues that are causing or may cause immense human suffering, and share wisdom by helping to connect voices all over the world. They work together to carefully consider which specific issues they will approach.
Branson’s other work in South Africa includes the Branson School of Entrepreneurship, set up in 2005 as a partnership between Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of Virgin, and entrepreneur Taddy Blecher, the founder of CIDA City Campus, a university in Johannesburg.
In March 2008, Richard Branson hosted an environmental gathering at his private island, Necker Island, in the Caribbean with several prominent entrepreneurs, celebrities, and world leaders.
They discussed global warming-related problems facing the world, hoping that this meeting will be a precursor to many more future discussions regarding similar problems. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales and Larry Page of Google were in attendance.
Branson has been very supportive of Kenya during its troubles, and in May 2008 had gone to Masai Mara to open a new school (Sekenani Primary School) which has also been partly funded by Virgin Atlantic frequent flyers who volunteered their time to help with the construction.
On 8 May 2009, Branson took over Mia Farrow’s hunger strike for 3 days in protest of the Sudanese government expulsion of aid groups from the Darfur region.
Richard Branson is a signatory of Global Zero Campaign, a non-profit international initiative for the elimination of all nuclear weapons worldwide.
Since 2010, Branson has served as a Commissioner on the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, a UN initiative which promotes universal access to broadband services.
In 2011, Branson served on the Global Commission on Drug Policy with former political and cultural leaders of Latin America and elsewhere, “in a bid to boost the effort to achieve more humane and rational drug laws.”
In the 1980s, he was briefly given the post of “litter Tsar” by Margaret Thatcher—charged with “keeping Britain tidy”.
He has frequently been mentioned as a candidate for Mayor of London, and polls have suggested he would be a viable candidate, though he has yet to express interest.
Honours and Awards
In the New Years Honours list dated 30 December 1999, Elizabeth II signified her intention to confer the honour of Knight on him for his “services to entrepreneurship”.
He was knighted by Charles, Prince of Wales on 30 March 2000 at an investiture in Buckingham Palace.
Also in 2000, Branson received the ‘Tony Jannus Award’ for his accomplishments in commercial air transportation.
Branson is the patron of several charities, including the International Rescue Corps and prisoners Abroad, a registered charity which supports Britons who are detained outside of the UK.
On 7 December 2007, United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, presented Branson with the United Nations Correspondents Association Citizen of the World Award for his support for environmental and humanitarian causes.
On 24 January 2011, Branson was awarded the German Media Prize (organised by “Media Control Charts”), previously handed to former US president Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama.
On 14 November 2011, Branson was awarded the ISTA Prize by the International Space Transport Association in The Hague for his pioneering achievements in the development of suborbital transport systems with “Virgin Galactic”.
On 11 February 2012, Branson was honoured with the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences’ President’s Merit Award for his contributions to the music industry. The event took place the night before the 5th Grammy Awards.
On 2 June 2013, Branson received an honorary degree of Doctor Honoris Causa from Kaunas Technology Univeristy in Kaunas, Lithuania.
Branson has a daughter named Holly and a son named Sam. He and wife Joan had a daughter named Clare Sarah who died when she was just four days old in 1979.
In 1998, Branson released his autobiography, titled Losing My Virginity, an international best-seller.
Branson has stated in a number of interviews that he derives much influence from non-fiction books.
He most commonly names Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, explaining that Mandela was “one of the most inspiring men I have ever met and had the honour to call my friend.”
According to Branson’s book, Screw It, Let’s do It. Lessons in Life, he is also a huge fan of works by Jung Chang.