Talk to a four year-old and an 84 year-old

Richard Branson on safari in Kenya
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Published on 15 August 2018

“Sometimes you just need to talk to a four year-old and an 84 year-old to understand life again.” This quote, by Kristen Butler, was among the many words of wisdom that my dear Uncle Charlie sent me over the years.

Sadly, Uncle Charlie passed away recently. But he wouldn’t want us to weep for him. He’d just want us to rejoice in laughter at his magnificent life and the delightful children and grandchildren that he has left in this world. "Don't run out of birthdays," he'd tell us with a twinkle in his eye. 

Uncle Charlie sitting in a truck on safari, with a giraffe in the background
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He led the most extraordinary of lives, which took him from Glasgow to Kenya, where he worked on films like the romantic epic Out Of Africa. He fell in love with the country and its people, choosing to bring his family up there. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with Uncle Charlie in Kenya and we have had a memorable time going on safari and exploring the countryside, often with my father Ted.

In the day we would follow the Great Migration, one of the wonders of the natural world, and I’d learn about the ways of magnificent leopards, and speeding cheetahs. At night, we would retire around the campfire, and Uncle Charlie would have us gasping with surprise, weeping with sadness and, most of all, roaring with laughter.

His adventures taught him a great deal – especially how to tell a magical story. He was among the last of that generation where storytelling was so much more important than soundbites, always ready with some smart advice and a wonderful way with words. Whether he was recounting his own experience or sharing the lessons of others, I could always rely on Uncle Charlie to inspire me – and make me laugh.

Richard Branson on safari
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As a great-grandfather himself, Uncle Charlie has given me lots of advice since I became a proud grand-dude. I’ll never forget the message he sent to Sam and Bellie, quoting Mark Twain, when Eva-Deia was born: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Which leads me back to the title of this little tribute, about needing to talk to young people, old people - all people - to understand yourself and the world. Uncle Charlie knew and taught us the value of storytelling, of connecting with other people and the world around us, and of bringing joy into others’ lives. It is for those qualities we will all miss him, and continue to tell his tales for many, many years to come.