Sir Viv Richards – from Maiden Voyager to Galactic 02

Richard Branson and Sir Viv Richards in Antigua
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 14 August 2023

Virgin Atlantic flew our inaugural flight on 22 June 1984, from London Gatwick to Newark. We had one 747 plane - Maiden Voyager. As for the pilot? Well…

After weeks spent racing against the clock to be ready for service, everyone was on board, in the mood to celebrate Virgin Atlantic’s birth. We made a special announcement that, as it was our first flight, we wanted all our passengers to see the view from the cockpit as Maiden Voyager soared up into the sky.

Richard Branson promoting Virgin Atlantic in the 1980s

The pilots could be seen on-screen. They seemed exceedingly relaxed as the plane started off down the runway. As we took off, were they even paying attention to the controls? Actually, they appeared to be laughing and joking around. Wait…that wasn’t a spliff, was it?

The pilots took off their hats and turned to smile at the passengers – they were Sir Viv Richards and Sir Ian Botham, two of the greatest cricketers of all time. As for the flight engineer? Yours truly!

Richard Branson promoting Virgin Atlantic's inaugural flight with Sir Viv Richards and Sir Ian Botham
Virgin Atlantic

We’d filmed the sequence in our simulator the day before the flight. Of course, extremely professional pilots were expertly guiding the plane. As for the passengers, we enjoyed a memorable flight over to Newark and Virgin Atlantic has never looked back – even if I did forget my passport that day.

I was able to remind Viv of this story when in Antigua and Barbuda for Virgin Galactic’s recent flight. Viv is quite rightly an icon in his country. He kindly joined us for a special viewing party alongside the prime minister and many of astronauts Keisha and Ana’s family. He was very proud to cheer on the first astronauts from the Caribbean – and a mother-daughter duo to boot.

Viv couldn’t help but laugh as I showed him the photos of us and Ian nearly 40 years ago. We also reminisced about our last meeting in Antigua and Barbuda – fittingly, at a cricket match.

During Virgin Galactic’s flight, it was quite surreal having Viv on one side of me and Keisha’s mum (Ana's Grandmother) Florence on the other. Much like on Maiden Voyager, there were tears of joy all round.