Experiencing Dad's spaceflight with our three kids

Holly Branson and Freddie Andrewes looking out over Spaceport America ahead of Virgin Galactic's Unity 22 spacelfiht with Richard Branson
Holly Branson
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 14 July 2021

The first adventure I ever attended was in 1986, when Dad set a new record time of three days, eight hours, and 31 minutes on the Blue Riband Transatlantic Challenge. I was five-years-old at the time.

One year earlier, my brother Sam was born while Dad was navigating the high seas attempting to break that same record but unfortunately didn’t quite make it. Since birth, our lives have been inextricably linked with Dad’s adventures and so has our mum Joan.

Richard Branson holding Sam Branson after his birth, post the Virgin Atlantic Challenger
Virgin Atlantic

Sam and I often talk about how we felt before Dad’s challenges of which there has been many! The feelings of not wanting to leave his side in the weeks before the challenge and being slightly over-awed by the cameras, the sheer amount of people, the noise and the excitement at every launch. Mum was always by our side, looking after us and keeping us out of the spotlight, but never preventing us from soaking in the excitement of every moment. It never really occurred to me the emotional journey Mum must have been on - not only about her husband embarking on another death-defying adventure, but watching her children waving goodbye to their beloved dad as he sailed or flew in to the wide blue yonder.

In the last few weeks, Freddie and I faced a similar situation with our own three little ones. It was so hard and it made me appreciate all the years my mum was faced with these experiences.

Richard Branson with Sam and Holly as children in front of a UFO
Image by Virgin.com

Etta, Artie and Lola are so young and love their Papa Richard so much, so we were completely torn as to whether we should bring them with us to witness Dad’s spaceflight, or whether Freddie to stay home with them. I’ve never left the kids for more than a couple of days at a time and the thought of being apart for three weeks made me burst into tears.

Freddie was my rock (as always) and reassured me that we should all go as a family. This was a moment in history that we would never forget and we should experience it as a family. It was such a relief when we made the decision, and it was the best decision we could have made. I know that Mum worried about us during these challenges when we were young, but I now understand the comfort we brought each other during those days. It would have been so much worse if we had been separated. Seeing Dad’s spaceflight with our children, his grandchildren, was the most amazing adventure I’ve witnessed to date!

Holly Branson standing with her husband and three children at Spaceport America ahead of Richard Branson's spaceflight with Virgin Galactic
Holly Branson

The kids loved every moment of it too. Here’s just a few of the words they shared with Papa Richard on the day he finally realised his childhood dream of going to space! You've got to love the way kids think!

While in his arms welcoming Dad back from space (this is the clip you see on the news!) Lola said:

“Papa went in an airplane. He went on a spaceship. Papa went to space. Then papa came back for me!”

 As a typical six-year-old, the first thing Artie said was:

“Were there aliens in space?”

Later that evening, at Spaceport America, Dad was struggling to do something with a game he was playing with the kids when Etta looked straight at him and said:

“What, you can go to space but you can't do this?”

On the morning of launch, Etta asked Dad: “Are you excited and a bit nervous?”

Dad said, “I’m excited," and my mum said, “Richard doesn’t get nervous."

Etta replied: "But Papa, everyone gets nervous.”

Thanks again to all the team at Virgin Galactic for such an incredible day, and for showing our children that if you follow your dreams, anything and everything is possible! And, Mum, thank you for the loving precedent you set for Sam and I. Thank you for always protecting us but never stopping us from experiencing such wonderful, wonderful adventures. Thank you for this life. Love you.