Branson Q&A

Adam Cooper caught up with one of the most famous faces in the business world Richard Branson.

Branson Q&A


Virgin boss Richard Branson came to the Monaco GP to hang out with his old pal Adrian Reynard. Adam Cooper caught up with one of the most famous faces in the business world.

A lot of celebrities make appearances in the paddock at Monaco. Usually you know that a VIP is approaching even if you cannot see them - that's because they are inevitably surrounded by photographers and their own entourages of assistants and hangers-on.

On Saturday I spotted a familiar face on his own and, surprisingly, almost unrecognised. Looking more than a little lost, Richard Branson walked past, brandishing a piece of paper.

He went over to the paddock gate, gazed out at the yachts in the harbour, and looked back at his piece of paper. As he didn't seem to be going anywhere in a hurry, I reckoned it was the perfect time for autosport.com to pounce. Did he have a couple of minutes to answer a few questions? No problem he said, but "Just don't ask me anything about motor racing!" Then I found out what he was up to. "I'm looking for the boat of a friend of mine."

Adrian Reynard, by any chance? "Yes, do you know which one it is?"

I knew that he was heading roughly in the right direction, but I wasn't sure exactly where the BAR boss was parked, other than that he was two boats down from Eddie Jordan .

"Let's go to the British American Racing motorhome," I suggested, and ask for him there. I'll show you where it is."

BAR were stationed at the far end of the paddock, so as we walked there was time for a quick inquisition.

The obvious question was what he was doing in Monaco?

"I do enjoy watching it. I don't go to a lot of the races, but Adrian is a great personal friend, and he has this new team, and Jacques Villeneuve I know well from ski-ing. So I came down to wish them well. Jackie Stewart I've met once or twice. And it's quite an English sport, so there are a lot of faces to see. And it's a fun weekend as well."

For a boss of a high-profile, successful organisation like Virgin to walk through the paddock without bodyguards might seem like quite a risky exercise. There was a serious danger that commercial managers and marketing directors might leap out of team motorhomes and try to romance him into parting with some of his advertising budget.

However, Branson was pretty safe ground, as the teams know there's no point - even Adrian Reynard, his pal of many years. There have been many attempts in the past, but no one has successfully persuaded him to invest in motor sport, despite Virgin's association with activities like ballooning and transatlantic crossings. There's a simple reason; it's common knowledge that he is an active anti-smoking campaigner, and as long as tobacco is in F1, Virgin won't be.

"Yes, I've personally been somebody who thinks that sponsorship of sport by cigarette companies does encourage and give a certain glamour to smoking. So we've been on the other side of the fence in terms of F1. But I saw Bernie last night, and we're still very friendly. It's fortunate for the sport that cigarette companies are getting replaced slowly but surely, and with the new law, they will be completely replaced within the next few years."

When they do go - theoretically after the EC directive comes into force in 2006 - Virgin will be high on every team's wish list. The company certainly has lots of products that would fit well with the sport's image.

"It's very true. We'll definitely be interested then."

With that we arrived at our destination, and I said farewell. I do wonder if BAR will be first in the queue in six years' time...

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