Seven life lessons I’ve learnt from Dad

Richard Branson kisses a race participant on the cheek
Image from Adam Slama
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 9 April 2024

People often ask me what it was like growing up with my dad as a dad. I always worry that my answer is so boring, because he was simply that: my dad! Dad was always one of those rare businesspeople, especially back then. No matter what challenge he faced building a global brand, he was always 100% involved in our lives and we were always 100% involved in everything he did. He always put us first, and by working from home (well, our houseboat) he rarely missed any important moments in our lives. That being said, he did narrowly miss Sam’s (my little brother) birth while he was out at sea with the Virgin Atlantic Challenger setting a world record. As both Sam and I inherited his adventure gene – we can forgive him for that!  

As I listened to Losing and Finding My Virginity (an audiobook which combines his two memoirs), it brought back so many memories from my childhood (alongside goosebumps listening to my dad’s voice!) and reminded me of all the lessons Dad has taught me. Here are a few that have stuck with me most.  

Holly Branson and Richard Branson on Necker Island
Branson family

1. Always be present 

No matter what Dad is doing, where he is going, or who he is with – he is always right there in that moment enjoying and learning from everything life has to offer. Over the years, I’ve watched his team trying to hurry him along at events (with little success!) as Dad talked to a child who dreams of flying to space or takes notes from a customer giving him feedback. Whether Dad is out on a walk with our kids or having a quiet cup of tea in a café - he takes the time to listen to anyone who approaches him. Dad has taught me that there is nothing so urgent that you can’t spend time talking to people, listening to what they have to say, and being present in the moment.  It is often in the most unlikely situations, talking to complete strangers, that we learn something new or come up with a new idea. 

Richard Branson and Holly Branso on-board Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Lady
Kevin Wolf

2. Respect everyone’s right to be who they want to be 

When I was three years old, I went up to Mum and Dad and I told them I wanted to be a boy. I dressed as a boy, changed my name to Josh and insisted that they treat me as a son. The feeling remained right up until I was nearly eleven years old. Throughout all those years, my mum and dad never questioned my feelings. Later in life, I asked them if it was difficult to accept my decision, and to not put any pressure on me to conform. They said the only thing that mattered was my happiness, and they would always love Sam and I unconditionally. Dad has instilled this same culture of acceptance and belonging at Virgin over the last 50 years, and I’ve continued to promote it in my 16 years in the business too. Everyone should be able to be (and express) their true selves without judgement. I’m grateful to my mum and dad for teaching me this incredibly important life lesson so early on. 

From the archives, Richard Branson is dressed as Peter Pan, he's holding daughter Holly who is dressed as Tinkerbelle and they are meeting the character Captain Hook
Image from

3. When you feel you can’t, know that you can  

Dad has never let fear stop him, in business and in every aspect of life. In fact, he always told us that if our dreams don’t scare us, they are too small. To this day, we often sit around the dinner table in disbelief as dad talks us through his latest ideas: 

“Per and I are attempting to fly a hot air balloon around the world.”  

“We’re thinking about driving a tank down Times Square to launch Virgin Cola.”  

“They’ve confirmed a date for my spaceflight.”  

In 2016, Dad and I embarked on a month-long 2,000 km long Strive Challenge to raise funds for Big Change. Dad was the oldest team member by far, but when many of us ended up in tears, Dad just kept going. He would get up at 4.30am and set off hours before everyone else because he didn’t want to hold anyone back. He never once complained and was a constant source of support for us all. I would keep him company some mornings and they were always the best days – just me, my dad, and the birds. By watching dad embark on all his adventures, I’ve realised that we’re all capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for. We just can’t give up.  

Richard hugs Holly and Sam as they finish hiking during the Strive Challenge
Adam Slama

4. Find the thing that makes you jump out of bed in the morning, and work won’t feel like work at all  

Growing up watching your parents love what they do was one of the best lessons I learnt in childhood. Dad was always so open and passionate about the work he was doing and even when we were very young and wanted nothing more than to play Atari, Dad let us do it in his office. We watched on as he and his teams grew Virgin from an idea to the global brand it is today. We saw that while we were having fun playing – Dad was having fun working! It was an amazing lesson in the joy of loving what you do. 

As a serial entrepreneur, Dad always encouraged Sam and me to pursue whatever it was we were passionate about. It helped enormously when I battled with the decision to quit medicine. I’m grateful to have been taught that it's OK to pivot, that dreams can change and, when you find a new path that brings you joy and purpose, go for it! There are so many ways to make a positive impact on the world - a wonderful lesson for young people.  

Dad also taught us that work and play don’t have to be separate. You spend most of your life working, so you've got to have some fun along the way. Dad sees everyone who works at Virgin as family, and I loved growing up surrounded by such an amazing extended family. It has been powerful to learn that work can be both fun and fulfilling if you follow your passion. 

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

5. Family comes first, always 

Dad has always put family first. I imagine he learnt this from his parents, who were the most supportive and loving parents (and grandparents) you could imagine. As I mentioned earlier, Dad worked from our houseboat most days, so we would often be drawing on the floor while he met with anyone from Mick Jagger to accountants and lawyers. We were invited to every launch event, inaugural flight, and every party. Nowadays, it’s such a joy to do it all over again with our own children. In fact, taking them to watch Dad’s spaceflight was one of the most memorable days of my life. No matter where he is in the world, or how much he has on his plate, I know that Dad would drop anything to be with us when we need him. As he mentions in his audiobook: “As an entrepreneur you are better equipped than anyone to question things, listen and learn and ultimately make a call. But there is always another company – there is not another wife, son or daughter. It doesn’t matter how much money you earn; nothing is worth more than your family’s health.”  

Richard and Holly Branson as a child at a desk on a houseboat
Image from the Branson family

6. Never lose your sense of childlike wonder  

A born practical joker, Dad loves nothing more than fancy-dress parties and April Fools pranks. He approaches almost every situation with a light and humorous touch that is rare in business leaders. Dad believes that being ruthless doesn’t achieve anything, and he brings a human touch to everything he does. As kids, he put up with us interrupting important phone calls or disrupting meetings almost daily! He never once told us to make ourselves scarce. I once called him about an exam result in medical school and was babbling away when, after a few minutes, Dad said: “Holly, darling, this is such great news. Can I call you back? I’m just doing a speech in front of 20,000 people!” I still can’t believe he picked up the phone on the stage! Thank you, Dad, for your wonderful laugh, your adventurous spirit, and your childlike sense of wonder. You make being alive so much fun. 

A young Richard Branson with Sam and Holly Branson as children on his back
Image from Branson family

7. Always ask yourself, how do I make the future better? 

From launching the Student Advisory Centre, through to raising awareness of the AIDS epidemic by starting Mates Condoms in the 80s, rescuing hostages from Baghdad in 1990, visiting Ukraine and speaking out against the war, and working tirelessly to end the death penalty - Dad never turns his back on issues that other leaders might find too controversial. Dad encourages businesses to give formerly incarcerated people a second chance and tackles divisive topics such as drug reform. Dad taught me to always strive to make a positive difference in the world, whatever you do. When he launched our family foundation, Virgin Unite, Dad and Jean Oelwang were determined to change the way business approached philanthropy through radical collaboration. Twenty years on and Virgin Unite is still committed to purpose-driven business and finding entrepreneurial solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. This has generated over $5bn in support for global initiatives, delivering much needed change in the world. Radical collaboration at it’s very best. 

My husband Freddie and I are so grateful that our children will grow up watching and learning from their beloved Granddad Richard, as he continues to tackle unacceptable issues in the world.  

Dad, I can’t thank you enough for teaching me these valuable life lessons and for inspiring so many entrepreneurs, activists, business leaders, dreamers, and young people all around the world. I couldn’t ask for a better role model, and I couldn’t imagine a better Dad! 

Richard, Holly and Nelson Mandela and family standing outside together

Dad, thank you enough for teaching me these valuable life lessons and for inspiring so many entrepreneurs, activists, business leaders, dreamers, and young people all around the world. I couldn’t ask for a better role model, and I couldn’t imagine a better Dad!