The moment I met Joan

Richard Branson with his wife Joan and their children Sam and Holly when they were young
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Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 7 February 2020

44 years ago today, I met my future wife at The Manor, the live-in recording studio we built for Virgin Records.

Old photo of Richard Branson with his arm around his wife Joan
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I often make up my mind about someone within 30 seconds of meetings them, and I fell for Joan almost from the moment I saw her. Joan was a down-to-earth Scottish lady and I quickly realised she wouldn’t be impressed by my usual antics.

Joan Branson
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She worked in an antiques shop called Dodo in Notting Hill, close to our Virgin office at Vernon Yard. One day, I hovered uncertainly outside the shop, then built up the courage to walk in. The shop sold old signs and advertisements, which I pretended to the shop owner, Liz, that I was fascinated by. Over the next few weeks, my visits to Joan amassed me an impressive collection of old hand painted tin signs, which advertised anything from Hovis bread to Woodbine cigarettes.

I lived on a houseboat at the time and it was soon full of signs declaring messages like, ‘Dive in Here for Tea’ and ‘Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained’. At one point, I picked up a Danish Bacon poster where the pig was licking his lips and looking at a chicken on a nest saying, ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’. At the time, Virgin Records was launching a new compilation album series and we were trying to come up with a name. The kitsch poster must have been etched in my mind as we brainstormed and settled on, ‘Now That’s What I Call Music!’. The phrase was catchy and it went on to become the biggest selling album series in history.

Archive photo of Richard, Holly and Joan

Far beyond record titles, I owe a lot to Joan. She’s my wife of 30 years, partner of 44 years, the mother of our two wonderful children and my constant rock. Joan has always been a steady source of wisdom and has played no small part in some of my better life decisions. In fact, I owe Necker island to Joan.

A young Holly Branson hugging a friend of Joan (left) and Sam Branson grinning to the camera
Image by the Branson family

Two years after we had first met, I wanted to show Joan a grand gesture of affection. Upon hearing about a beautiful island in the British Virgin Islands up for sale, I called the people selling it to enquire. We were still in the early days of Virgin Records and I definitely did not have the cash to buy it - but try telling that to a fool in love! The realtor offered me a trip to see the island. Before we knew it, Joan and I were high in the sky, looking down over our future home. It was the second time I experienced love at first sight.

Richard Branson with the family on New Year's Eve
Image from the Branson family

Together we strolled around Necker Island and dreamed up plans for turning it into our home and a haven for musicians. Our dreams quickly came crashing down after they rejected my highest offer of $100,000. The realtor’s ‘discounted’ asking price was $6 million, so you can imagine the response I got. Needless to say, the helicopter left without us and we were left to hitch-hike back to the airport – ego bruised and sunburnt. 

Thankfully, Joan wasn’t put off by the failed attempt and we remained madly in love - houseboat and all. A year later though, Necker island was still for sale and the owner was desperate to sell. Virgin Records was in a much better position than it had been a year before, so I quickly agreed to a purchase price of $180,000. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. But the very best was when Joan and I got married on Necker 11 years later and it’s still the place we call home.

The extended Branson family posing for a photo on Necker Island all wearing white
Owen Buggy Photography

If I cast my mind back to that day at The Manor 44 years ago, I never could have imagined what the next four decades would bring, with a lifetime of love, wonderful children in Holly and Sam and our delightful grandchildren.

I wouldn’t have been able to do all it without Joan, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.