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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 17:34 EDT

Sir Richard Branson

Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson, born July 18, 1950, in Surrey, England, is a British business magnate and investor. He is best known as the founder and chairman of Virgin Group of more than 400 companies. His net worth as of 2013 is $4.6 Billion (US). He is the fourth (4th) richest person in the UK, according to Forbes Magazine.

His first business venture was a magazine called Student at the age of 16.

By 1969, Branson was living in a London commune, surrounded by the British music and drug scene. It was during this time that Branson had the idea to begin a mail-order record company called Virgin to help fund his magazine efforts.

The company performed modestly, but made Branson enough that he was able to expand his business venture, adding a record shop in Oxford Street, London. With the success of the record shop, the high school drop-out was able to build a recording studio in 1972 in Oxfordshire, England.

Branson was educated at Scaitcliffe School, now Bishopsgate School, until the age of thirteen. He then attended Stowe School until the age of sixteen. Branson has dyslexia and had poor academic performance as a student, but later discovered his ability to connect with others.

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 balloon “Virgin Atlantic Flyer” crossed the Atlantic.

In January 1991, Branson crossed the Pacific from Japan to Arctic Canada, 6,700 miles, in a balloon of 2,600,000 cubic feet. This broke the record, with a speed of 245 miles per hour.

Between 1995 and 1998, Branson, Per Lindstrand and Steve Fossett made attempts to circumnavigate the globe by balloon. 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 their Breitling Orbiter 3 in March 1999.

In March 2004, Branson set a record by traveling from Dover to Calais in a Gibbs Aquada in 1 hour, 40 minutes and 6 seconds, the fastest crossing of the English Channel in an amphibious vehicle. The previous record of six hours was set by two Frenchmen.

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-foot sloop Virgin Money. After 2 days, 4 hours, winds of force 7 to 9 (strong gale), and seas of 40 feet, a ‘monster wave’ destroyed the spinnaker, washed a ten-man life raft overboard and severely ripped the mainsail. She eventually continued to St. George’s, Bermuda.

Among Branson’s most ambitious ventures is a recent move into the space industry. His Virgin Galactic business, an offshoot of Virgin Group, looks to provide suborbital spaceflights for tourism, suborbital spaceflights for space science missions and orbital launches to put small satellites into orbit over Earth.

POPULAR CULTURE

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 and Tripping Over.

Branson made several appearances during the nineties on the BBC Saturday morning show Live & Kicking. Branson also appears in a cameo early in XTC’s “Generals and Majors” video.

He was also the star of a reality television show on Fox called The Rebel Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best (2004), in which sixteen contestants were tested for their entrepreneurship and sense of adventure. It did not succeed as a rival show to Donald Trump’s The Apprentice and only lasted one season.

His high public profile often leaves him open as a figure of satire—the 2000 AD series Zenith features a parody of Branson as a super villain, as the comic’s publisher and favored distributor and the Virgin group were in competition at the time.

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 center of his storyline.

Branson has been involved with many Humanitarian causes, and has received numerous awards and honors.

Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson is married with two children.

Image Caption: Sir Richard Branson at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012/Rio Conventions Pavilion. Credit: UNClimateChange/Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0)

Sir Richard Branson