Q: Your net worth is estimated at $8 billion. Why aren’t you lounging on that private island of yours with a bunch of geishas?
A: I’m definitely in a privileged spot where I can take it easy, but if you’re raised with a conscience, you know that with money comes responsibility. Two years ago, I announced that proceeds from Virgin’s transportation companies would be invested in renewable-energy initiatives. I’m offering a $25 million prize to anyone who can remove existing carbon from the atmosphere. And Nelson Mandela, Peter Gabriel, and I just launched the Elders, a group of 12 of the most respected women and men in the world working to resolve conflicts using their moral authority. We’re focusing on Darfur at the moment.

Q: What’s harder, ending civil strife or doing business with the Sex Pistols?
A: We got along quite well, the Sex Pistols and I. No other record company wanted them, so they were pleased with Virgin. But their bark was worse than their bite. Steve Jones was a nice young lad; so was John Lydon. Even Sid Vicious was rather pleasant.

Q: Your net worth is estimated at $8 billion. Why aren’t you lounging on that private island of yours with a bunch of geishas?
A: I’m definitely in a privileged spot where I can take it easy, but if you’re raised with a conscience, you know that with money comes responsibility. Two years ago, I announced that proceeds from Virgin’s transportation companies would be invested in renewable-energy initiatives. I’m offering a $25 million prize to anyone who can remove existing carbon from the atmosphere. And Nelson Mandela, Peter Gabriel, and I just launched the Elders, a group of 12 of the most respected women and men in the world working to resolve conflicts using their moral authority. We’re focusing on Darfur at the moment.

Q: What’s harder, ending civil strife or doing business with the Sex Pistols?
A: We got along quite well, the Sex Pistols and I. No other record company wanted them, so they were pleased with Virgin. But their bark was worse than their bite. Steve Jones was a nice young lad; so was John Lydon. Even Sid Vicious was rather pleasant.

Q: Rather pleasant? Sorry, but that sounds like, well, bollocks.
A: One of the funnier stories is about when Virgin was prosecuted for the word bollocks! A Nottingham record store displayed Never Mind the Bollocks, and the police decided bollocks was a derivative of balls—which we all assumed it was. But the person who was defending us recommended that I contact a linguistics expert. So I rang up Nottingham University and told this linguistics professor that we were being prosecuted for using the word bollocks. He said, “What a load of rubbish. Bollocks has nothing to do with balls.” In fact, he told us, it was a nickname given to priests in the 18th century. The professor turned out to be a priest himself and decided to show up to court with us—wearing a dog collar. Amazingly, he got us acquitted. So actually, the album title was Never Mind the “Priests,” Here’s the Sex Pistols.

Q: But they weren’t anything like clergy. Were there any moments of mayhem?
A: Well, yes, there was this one party in particular. It was the queen’s Silver Jubilee, and we rented a boat on the Thames to celebrate the Pistols’ "God Save the Queen." It was quite exciting. The party was quite wild, and the police weren’t very pleased with the band playing that song on her majesty’s 25th anniversary. They came on board and arrested everyone. What’s funny is that 25 years later, on her Golden Jubilee, the queen knighted me. I was nervous that she was either going to throw down the sword or cut my head off.

Q: You’re 57 now. When did you realize you weren’t like all the other suits?
A: When I was 15, I left school to start a magazine, and it became a success because I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I remember banging on James Baldwin’s door to ask for an interview when he came to England. Then I got Jean-Paul Sartre’s home phone number and asked him to contribute. If I’d been 30, he might have said no, but I was a 15-year-old with passion and he was charmed. Making money was always just a side product of having a good time and creating things nobody’d seen before.

Q: Like Virgin Galactic. But is that really going to fly?
A: Absolutely. By the end of next year I hope to go up myself, with my parents and my children, ringing in a whole new space era. Citizen astronauts. You’ll be able to unbuckle your seat belt and float around in the cabin, gazing at incredible views through enormous windows. There are fewer than 500 people who’ve actually looked back and marveled at Earth from space, and I actually think it’s important for as many people as possible to experience that. Though I’ve never done it myself, I’ve been told it’s not the same as viewing the planet on Google Earth.

Q: Speaking of Google, what was it like marrying a Google guy?
A: Last fall, [Google cofounder] Larry Page wanted to get married on Necker Island, so I officiated. It was fantastic. We had 300 guests on the beach, and the beautiful young couple decided to kite-surf off into the sunset afterward. Just as they did, this massive tiger shark came around. There was absolute panic, with relatives screaming. But then, strangely, the shark swam in to land and walked onto shore. I’d actually had the shark suit built a few weeks before, and after about 10 minutes of mayhem, everyone realized it was a joke.

Q: That’s evil. Now you must confess: When did you join the mile-high club?
A: Long before I owned my own airline. I was actually flying to L.A., sitting next to this very lovely lady. There’s something about being on a plane next to someone like that. Anyway, she was very forward and we ended up with four palms against the mirror in the loo. She didn’t know who I was—and I was nobody at the time anyway. When we got off, she said, “Whatever your name is, we’re going to have to separate, because my husband is meeting me at the baggage claim.”







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