This is an open letter on the subject of the environment.
First of all a bit of background. I'm a fan of yours. In 1988 my Mum and Dad took my Sister and I on a family holiday to Florida. We spent a few days in London first, and we visited the Virgin Megastore where I literally bought the T-shirt. As a quiet lad from a tiny market town in the country, I was blown away by London, and I was so excited to be in this bustling electric atmosphere with all it's endless possibility. To me you were someone who had made the most of these possibilities.
As I walked around the store I imagined what it must have taken to build up a business like this, from your first small shop to this huge empire. Being 15 years old and an aviation nut, I also knew that down the road in Gatwick you had a fleet of aircraft too. Splendid red and white 747's and an airline that was making BA look like a bunch of stuffy, faceless, establishment suits who were literally drunk on their own entitlement. As I sat down at the front of that aircraft and plugged in my free Virgin headphones and listened to the latest tunes, I gazed around at the stewardesses, who seemed to a 15 year old boy to be the very last word in glamour and style. I was in seventh heaven.
Hours later the aircraft turned onto final approach over a sweltering Floridian landscape and through my headphones came Cilla Black, singing "Anyone who had a heart." Hearing this tune sung in the mid 60's by a very British lady as we drifted down over the orange groves and swamps of late 80's Florida was quite surreal, and as someone who has always adored the surreal and unusual, it wasn't lost on me. The holiday was amazing, Florida was hot, Virgin were beyond cool.
A few years later I read "Losing my virginity" and was riveted to every page as I learned of your fights with BA, the dirty tricks campaign, and throwing a glass of water over Clive Anderson (well done!)
I followed you through the news stories on TV and in the papers, and I saw you go from success to greater success.
But lately something has changed, my respect for you has taken a knock, and I need your help to change that.
You are aware of the beauty of the environment around your own beloved Caribbean island, and your love of that place comes through in your blog posts and tweets. You obviously care very passionately about the environment and you use your position of influence to actively campaign for change, but there is a problem.
It's that airline.
Richard, I'm saying this in the nicest possible way, and with the best intentions. The airline has to go.
You can not possibly say a single word more about the environment while you have anything to do with the airline.
I have a Commercial Pilot's Licence, and I know how an aircraft works, where it flies, and what comes out of the back. It's nasty. I don't care how fuel efficient it is, or how economically the pilots fly it, it burns fuel, and it dumps the remains out of the back of the engine into the atmosphere.
I'm not mentioning your other businesses, or any statistics, or professing to be any kind of expert on the subject. I'm just saying that until you give up the airline, you have got to shut up.
When you've sold it, this is what you must do. You book a massive venue, and I do mean massive, and you invite everyone you know that has influence. Every journalist, celebrity, politician, environmental campaigner, eco activist, writer, pop star, actor, promoter, and you say these words:
"I sold my airline. I sold it because it pollutes the environment. I have other businesses that I'm doing my best to change so they can be more environmentally friendly, but the airline had to go. I couldn't stand here and talk to you about the environment while those planes were up in the sky. It was the ultimate hypocrisy and I'm sorry. I'm a rich man, I'm not embarrassed to tell you that, but that wealth puts me in a unique position, with unique influence.
I'm 61 now, I'm not going to live forever, but I have the chance to do something that will change this planet for the better. I have an island, a beautiful jewel of an island, and my children have grown up loving it and enjoying it's wildlife. But you have children too, and they deserve a chance to enjoy their own island, this amazing place we all call home. My airline spent the last 28 years polluting the atmosphere, I can't change that, but I will make sure that I spend the rest of my days doing my bit to help other people make the changes we need to make. Very soon Virgin Galactic will be sending people into low earth orbit, and in the near future perhaps even further into space, and from that vantage point they will see what many other astronauts have seen. That tiny, impossibly thin blue line that we call our atmosphere. Maybe they too will be seized with a desire to do whatever they can to stop polluting it. They might also see the deforestation, the pollution from new industry in eastern Europe and China circling the globe, the melting ice caps, the new deserts.
They might hope to avoid the fate of the inhabitants of another beautiful island named Easter, whose citizens looked sadly to the horizon even as they chopped down their last tree.
We still have time, and we can make the changes we need to make. The planet doesn't notice announcements, platitudes and excuses, it notices action. My name is Richard Branson, thank you for listening."
Can you do this Richard?
Stewart, aged 38