100 years of Branson family memories
My wonderful Aunty Nessie (Vanessa) has published a brilliant memoir sharing 100 years of our family history – right from the birth of my grandad Ted to the birth of Nessie’s first grandchild, Arlo.
I read One Hundred Summers at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, and it became a soothing and grounding respite from everything going on in the world. Reading stories of my granddad’s wisdom, my granny Eve’s courage, my dad’s spirit, and Nessie’s endless resilience filled me with strength and left me feeling so grateful to have these wonderful people in my life.
I wanted to pick Nessie’s brain about every tiny detail in a Meet the Author interview but, as 2020 would have it, our chance didn’t arrive until early December. Sitting on a park bench, Nessie and I talked about so many memories and explored the themes in the book such as love, motherhood, heartbreak, resilience, loneliness and togetherness. As she put it herself: “This book is so much about loyalty, the security in having a close family and caring for each other. It gives us the strength to care for other people more.” Nessie’s intelligence, free-spirited nature and warmth shines through, in both her writing and in our interview on a dreary winter morning. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Just like my Dad, Nessie is an avid risk taker. From dropping out of school at age 15 while battling dyslexia to discovering a love of art as a picture framer, Nessie went on to own a gallery, launch the Marrakech Biennale, and build two of the most prominent boutique hotels in the industry. She takes life and runs with it – a characteristic directly inherited from Granny Eve. As Nessie told me: “Mum’s mantra of ‘have courage, have courage, have courage’ rings in my ear all the time.”
When you look back on 100 years of family history that included two world wars; one cold war; two waves of feminism; the rise of a global business empire; the punk movement and Enfants Terribles artists of the 1980s; the AIDS epidemic; and the birth of the internet – you realise you have so much to learn from those who came before and blazed the trail. Reading about Nessie’s lives and the lives of people in my family who have shaped me, taught me the importance and the sheer joy of reflection. As Nessie said: “Everything you do in life has consequences for the future, even if it’s 20 years ahead. And when you look back a generation or two, you see those consequences being played out your generation.”
Throughout our conversation, Nessie also reminded me how much there is to learn from our biggest setbacks and darkest moments in life. Nessie spoke candidly about the immense pain that comes from a marriage breakdown, but also the release of shame and reconciliation that can follow. In the memoir, she writes: “When stress mounts incrementally, many of us don’t act to lessen the load until it’s too late. Everything had been crumbling around me, but after that swim I realised I had to turn my life around. The way to do it was to not only stop battling upstream, but to get out of the water all together.”
At one point in the interview when we discussed different writing processes, Nessie said: “Don’t get too hung up on the full stops.” After reading the book and knowing Nessie all my life, I think this really reflects the way she lives her life and is great advice across the board. While One Hundred Summers feels deeply personal, it is universally wonderful. I think we could all benefit from having more of Nessie’s spirit in our lives. l If you would like to read it for yourself, you can order a copy of One Hundred Summers here.