Childhood adventures

Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 22 September 2022

The summer holidays (and a speech I gave at Dad’s birthday) left me reflecting on some of the crazy adventures Dad roped us into when we were kids. As a family, we always have so much fun together – from climbing mountains, to breaking world records, running marathons, sailing across the Atlantic and taking part in the gruelling Strive Challenges.

It all began when we were almost too young to quite grasp the dangers, and our poor Mum sat on the sidelines waiting for us to come home safe and sound. Beyond the fear though, these adventures made us more brave, more resilient, and more curious about the world. As a mum, I only hope I can instil these qualities in my own children. Dad feels the same, and he wrote a series of poems for his grandchildren, to fill them wiht the spirit of adventure and recount some of his own. 

Life is an adventure

One of the first adventures I remember was when I was eight years old and my cousins came to stay. Dad had just passed his hot-air ballooning licence, and he was itching to get up in the air. Most (normal) parents would want to practice as much as possible before taking their children up to 3,000 ft, but not my Dad. He wanted us to be part of the adventure. Before we knew it, Dad squeezed seven of us (all under the age of 11, and the three youngest were only four!) into the basket and off we went. At first, everything went smoothly. But then a gust of wind left us hurtling towards a bunch of trees. Dad frantically burnt more fuel and we managed to clear the trees – although I remember hearing them scrape across the bottom of the basket.

When we reached a safe height again, I remember looking out in wonder at the world. My little brother Sam, however, wasn’t quite tall enough to see out. He decided to try and climb out of the basket and Dad had to take his hands off the burner to rescue him. The balloon started plummeting fast, but thankfully after saving Sam, Dad was able to grasp the burner again to keep us airborne. Eventually, we landed safely (after almost clipping some electric pylons on the way down), much to the relief of my mum and Aunt Lindy. It was one of the most slightly terrifying yet exciting memories of my early childhood, and it left me itching to see more of the world and go on more adventures.

Richard Branson with his children, nieces and nephews in a hot-air balloon
Branson Family

Another early memory of mine was on April Fools in 1989. Dad decided to build a giant UFO and fly it over London. I remember starring out in amazement, as I watched it soar in the sky while wearing a flight suit matching my Dad’s. That feeling of awe was something I’ve felt time and time again in life, thanks to the adventures we’ve embarked upon. 

Richard Branson with Sam and Holly as children in front of a UFO

As the years went by, Dad made sure there was very little time spent relaxing on sun loungers during the school holidays. While my friends played Marco Polo in the pool, we were left stranded, cap-sized, being chased by dangerous animals and scrambling to avoid rock avalanches. We even ended up in a war-zone at one point – although dad is adamant that wasn’t his plan or his fault!

These early adventures made us hungry to live livesfull of new experiences, and helped us overcome our childhood fears. There was no time to worry about a monster under the bed when Dad was scooping us into hot-air balloons. As we grew older, the adventures continued as we tried to conquer everything from climbing Mont Blanc, kitesurfing the English Channel, running the London Marathon, and attempting the fastest ever crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a 99ft monohull sailboat. Dad was by our side every time - finding something to laugh about while we sat there shivering (from fear, freezing, or both).

Come hell or high water

Now that Freddie and I have three little ones of our own, it fills me with pride to see them becoming more and more adventurous. I hope this always continues. It also makes me so happy that their earliest memories include watching Dad fly to space and become an astronaut. I’ll always remember seeing Lola when he landed, bursting with excitement, and saying: “Papa went on a spaceship. Papa went to space. Then papa came back for me!”

Flying to space with Virgin Galactic

Thank you Mum and Dad for showing us that life is can always be an adventure, if you choose to embrace your fears and go for it! I hope this inspires everyone to keep exploring and always look at the world with a childlike sense of wonder.