Mandela: the sunny side of an icon

Richard and Holly Branson stand with Nelson Mandela.  They are smiling with their arms around each other's shoulders
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 24 November 2020

Nelson Mandela is one of my biggest heroes and a global symbol of liberation, hope and equality. Mandela showed us that great things can be achieved by leading with wisdom, empathy and integrity.

Richard Stengel has captured Mandela’s spirit brilliantly in his book Mandela’s Way: Lessons on Life, Love and Courage. Rick spent nearly three years travelling with Mandela, shadowing his every move and helping to write his autobiography ‘Long Walk to Freedom’. I’ve been fortunate to know Rick for many years so it was wonderful to catch up with an interview as part of my Literati Book Club.

We reflected on many wonderful memories and lessons we learnt from Mandela, but one thing Rick said really stuck with me. When I asked what Rick missed most about Madiba, he said: “He was sunny. Being in his presence was like being outside on a beautiful summer afternoon.”

This simple line summed up so much about Mandela’s character and explains many of his actions. Rick and I reflected on everything from Madiba’s ability to light up a room, his love of dancing, capacity to overcome bitterness, conjure up courage, constantly surprise people, and hold on to hope even after everything he had experienced. Upon reflection, the common thread between everything we discussed and everything we admired about Mandela came down to his glowing warmth and sunny character.

Richard Branson standing next to Nelson Mandela and others
David Turnley

Rick and I both agreed that one of the most powerful lessons Mandela shared was how to not be a victim of your own fear. As Rick said in our interview: “Courage isn’t the absence of fear. Courage is understanding your fears, coping with them and overcoming them.” It’s powerful to realise that it’s OK to be scared in life, but it’s how we react to our fears that makes all the difference. Living on the sunny side of life and staying optimistic makes it’s all the easier to manage our fears too.

It has now been seven years since Madiba passed away, but his sunny spirit continues to make the world a little bit brighter. What a wonderful legacy to leave and thank you to Rick for sharing his light with all of us.