Engel & Völkers
  • 01.03.24
  • by Michaela Cordes

Meeting Mr. Yes!

Multi-Unternehmer Sir Richard Branson

Photography by: Victor Chito

To mark the opening of his new hotel Sir Richard Branson invited GG to meet him on Mallorca. A day with the founder of the Virgin Group, multi-entrepreneur, fearless adventurer, employer
of over 30,000 people in 30 countries and pioneer who refuses to stop making the world a better place.

The scorching sun beats down from a cloudless Mallorcan sky. Despite the added boost from my electric bike, beads of sweat form on my forehead. I gasp for breath, struggling to match the pace of the figure ahead, who grows smaller with each passing minute. The man effortlessly gliding through the undulating landscape on his racing bike, as if weight- less, is none other than Sir Richard Branson! Two days from now, Virgin Galactic, his space company, will be launching the first commercial flights; recent announcements have also been made that Jennifer Lopez is joining Virgin Voyages, Branson’s adults-only cruise line, as Chief Celebrations Officer. Despite his packed schedule, the 73-year-old multi-entrepreneur has carved out time to jet off to Mallorca, deter- mined to be present for the inauguration of his latest venture: Son Bunyola, his newest luxury hotel. After barely setting foot on the ground, the energetic businessman plunges into the hotel’s expansive 28-meter pool with exuberance. Only a few minutes later he proposed a spontaneous bike ride to explore the surroundings of his latest endeavor.

Nestled at the base of the enchanting Tramuntana mountains, the estate comprises a hotel building – a former ruin – and three distinct vil- las, resting in the midst of an unspoiled stretch of coastline on Mallorca’s western shores near Banyalbufar, surrounded by 15,000 ancient olive trees. “Over 25 years ago, I stood here for the first time and toured this spectacular estate,” recounts Richard Branson as we sit down for an interview on the terrace at sunset after our bike ride, with a beautiful view onto the vast, glistening Mediterranean below us. The journey, I have to admit, is worthwhile for this view alone!

When Branson acquired the estate back then, he already owned a small luxury hotel in Mallorca, which he transformed from a ruin near Deià into the five-star hotel La Residencia in 1987, now operated by the Belmond Group. “Originally, I came to Mallorca chasing a lost love,” the adventurer continues, chuckling, “that was a very long time ago when I was a young man in my twenties.”

“The woman I lived with back then, whom I was madly in love with, ran away and moved in with another man in Mallorca. I never did get the relationship back but one day she rang me and told me about a very special place she had found, a delightful piece of land. That’s where I later opened La Residencia.” The story of Son Bunyola is even more fascinating and almost symbolic of all of Richard Branson’s endeavors. What unites them is the unwavering determination of the entrepreneur behind them, a man who simply refuses to give up.

After acquiring his second property in Mallorca in 1994, Branson tried for several years to develop it, but faced continuous setbacks. Ultimately, in 2002, he made the decision to sell it as the required planning permission he sought kept getting denied. Redirecting his focus, Branson channeled his energies into the expansion of the globally operating Virgin Hotels Group and the creation of the more exclusive Virgin Limited Edition, a collection of luxury hotels located in Switzerland, South Africa and the Caribbean.

In 2015, the buyer approached him and inquired if Branson would consider repurchasing the 520-hectare estate at the same price he had originally sold it for. Branson was more than willing to do so. By then, the Mallorcan government had shifted its stance, showing enthusiasm for supporting the development of premium, sustainable hotel concepts. With the planning department on his side, Branson seized the opportunity and successfully navigated through the bureaucratic hurdles in record time.

The hotel at the foot of the Tramuntana mountains boasts 26 rooms and three villas. The hotel at the foot of the Tramuntana mountains boasts 26 rooms and three villas. Photo: Courtesy of Virgin Unlimited edition

"The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all." – Sir Richard Branson

Branson maintained the traditional aesthetic of fincas on the Balearic Islands when he furnished the hotel. Photo: Virgin Unlimited edition

How does it feel, after all these years, to have finally accomplished two goals that once seemed so elusive? Building your own space tourism company and securing this hotel project that holds a special place in your heart?
(Branson chuckles, takes a moment to reflect. Then his demeanor becomes more serious.)
“It’s truly remarkable. It was over 25 years ago that I first walked on this property, around the same time that we launched Virgin Galactic, our spaceflight company. Seeing this place finally open for business today, I feel a similar sense of exhilaration as I did a few months ago when I first floated in space. Just witnessing my dream come true.”

One of many dreams you’ve turned into reality. Can you describe what it feels like, going into space for the first time?
“It was the most thrilling day of my life. And the culmination of a dream. My children were there, my grandchildren, and surprisingly, there wasn’t a moment of fear. I wanted to savor every single moment of that day – every single extreme, even reaching speeds of three and a half thousand miles per hour. Then suddenly, the roar comes to an end, and you find yourself floating in the wonderful silence of space, looking back at Earth. In that moment, I thought: Surely, I’ll wake up soon and think I just had an incredible dream.”

Risky adventures are, so to speak, your specialty. How do you respond to critics who like to point out the significant dangers of such endeavors?
“My motto has always been: ‘The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all!’ One must not forget, the world needs pioneers. Because the more space missions are conducted or the deeper the oceans are explored, the more we learn. It becomes safer only through these experiences. Essentially, it’s those who do these things for the first or second time who must push the world forward, even if it can be painful.

He did it! Richard Branson celebrates the opening of his new hotel Son Bunyola on Mallorca. Photo: Jaime Reina

His wife, Joan Templeman, and his children – daughter Holly and son Sam – have endured a lot and often worried about the adventurous husband and father. Holly is increasingly becoming the face of the Virgin Group as the Chief Purpose and Vision Officer. Sam is a musician and filmmaker. The five grandchildren (aged between three and seven) also play a significant role in Richard Branson’s life. You get a sense of how closely connected the entrepreneur is to his family on Instagram, where almost five million people follow him. When the conversation turns to his grandchildren, Branson laughs and proudly takes out his phone, playing voice messages that he exchanges with them daily.

However, the greatest influence on his life, daring spirit and entrepreneurship seems to have been his mother, Eve. She passed away in January 2021 at the age of 96 due to Covid-related complications. Before that, she had followed every extraordinary business or ad- venture idea of her son’s with enthusiasm. In the latest HBO documentary about his life, the physical resemblance between mother and son is unmistakable. “BRANSON,” the title, annoys the entrepreneur to this day: “What a boring name! I wanted them to call it ‘Son of Eve.’” Symbolically, the first Virgin Galactic spaceship carrier or “mothership” is named VMS Eve. “As a young woman, my mother was hardworking, trying to run her own company. In many families it’s the father who has the most influence on the son, but in my case it was my mother’s restless and curious personality that rubbed off on me. She was very understanding about my dyslexia, which wasn’t even diagnosed as that back then – and showed me a lot of compassion. She also supported me when I said I wanted to leave school at 15 because I was a hopeless case. Both my parents did, in fact.”

Never without his family! In March 2000 Branson was knighted by the Queen. Photo: Branson Family

“I remember walking in the garden with my mother and father, and in the end, she simply said, ‘You know what you want to do.’” In the documentary, when her son steps into a hot-air balloon bent on circumnavigating the world, you can clearly see her excitement and get the feeling that the former stewardess would have loved to join her son. “I think try- ing to balloon around the world was my most dangerous adventure. No one had succeeded in doing this before,” says Branson and takes a sip of water. “The balloon flies wherever the wind takes it, you have very little control. Clouds and storms can rip it to pieces. I was young and foolhardy at the time and I think we were pulled out of the sea on four or five different occasions. But we did it. We were the first to cross the Atlantic and then we were the first to cross the Pacific. To do that, we took off in Japan, heading for Los Angeles. But we missed L.A. by 2,318 miles and landed in the Arctic. That just goes to show. The unpredictability! Going into space is far safer. We spent 20 years building our spaceships and in the process, learned all about where you can go wrong.”

You are, in the truest sense of the word, an entrepreneur, and were knighted by the Queen for it in 2000. To this day, you have founded, among other things, a record label, an airline, a radio station. You have ventured into the hotel business, space travel, and most recently, into cruise shipping. How do you manage to turn so many great visions into reality?

“Another motto of mine is: Do it! I am incredibly curious, love to learn, to create, and surround myself with people who are better than me. I want to create the best. It sounds simple, but it’s easier said than done. I started out with 200 British pounds that my mother gave me in the form of a necklace as initial capital. The reason I say this is: It’s possible to work your way up, even if you have no money. I was a young, dyslexic guy who left school at 15 with no money and yet I managed to survive. You can achieve great things by somehow getting the money for everything you do in advance. I’ve learned from my mistakes and have often been very, very close to bankruptcy. But somehow, I persevered. If you don’t try, you’ll definitely not succeed, that’s for sure. Here’s my advice: Try! Try in a small way, be inquisitive, surround yourself with great people and have a blast along the way!”

You are 73 years old but still have the energy of a restless child. Is that another secret of your success? That you’ve always kept your inner child alive?
“One should never take oneself too seriously! And I love April 1. I’ve pulled off some funny April Fools’ pranks. Once I flew over London in a UFO. When we landed on a foggy field outside Gatwick, just like in E.T., the door opened slowly, dry ice billowed out, and we had a person with dwarfism on board who was the first to disembark. They called out the army and six police forces. We were surrounded, and met by an English bobby with a truncheon. When I stepped out I was arrested for wasting the policeman’s time – hilarious!”

Towards the end of our conversation, Branson becomes somewhat reflective: “You know, sometimes I lie in bed in the morning and think: My whole life has been one incredible dream. I am very aware of the life I am privileged to live, everything I’ve learned, all the wonderful things that have happened and all the adventures I’ve come back from. Not everything I did worked out, but I am still with the same lady – and have been for 45 years!”

Richard Branson with his wife Joan and daughter Holly on the first Virgin Atlantic flight on June 22, 1984. Photo: Branson Family
Branson and Virgin Trains, a rail operator. Photo: Virgin Trains.

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