Back in 2000 I arrived in Sydney to help launch Virgin Mobile Australia. I’d been down under many times across my decades in business, so I was confused to see we were heading away from the city when we left the airport.
My confusion lifted when the car started to slow down and we approached an empty field with a helicopter. I thought to myself: well this is nice, we can travel in comfort and beat the traffic.
I jumped out of the car with excitement, and met the company’s CMO, Jean Oelwang, who explained to me that we were pressed for time and had to move quickly. Someone then assisted me into a harness, and the next thing I found myself laying on my stomach in the paddock, as someone strapped a bungee cord to my waist.
Slowly the helicopter began to rise, and I realised that I wasn’t going for a scenic flight over Sydney. As it got to about 100 feet above me, I too began to rise. And just like the blades of the propeller, I started to spin very fast. I thought to myself, this is the first and last event Jean would ever do for Virgin, but I had to survive the experience to fire her! Having learned to skydive during my ballooning adventures, I spread my arms and legs, and assumed a pose that saw me stabilise.
I’ve had an obsession with flying ever since I was a kid. When I was younger I often dreamed of flapping my arms like wings. When I was older, the obsession led me to start Virgin Atlantic, take on ballooning escapades, and push things a step further to launch Virgin Galactic.
All of a sudden my dream of flying actually came true. I was totally unprepared for it, but I found myself soaring like an eagle and grinning like a fool, high above Sydney.
Then I saw the Harbour Bridge. And I was heading straight for it. I thought I was going to smack into it and die. Thankfully the pilot was very skilled, and we avoid that catastrophe. Moments later I landed in Darling Harbour on top of a giant cage, full of people wearing shirts with the names of Virgin Mobile’s Australian competitors.
Virgin Mobile Australia entered the market with a unique no contract offering. So I grabbed the keys and unlocked the cage, setting those inside free from their awful contracts and bad deal.
Afterwards, when I was still on a huge high, Jean explained to me that they hadn’t been able to secure insurance for the flight. For those wondering if I came through on my promise and fired her… the answer is no. I survived – fulfilling a life long dream of flying – and so did she. And years later she came to me with a wonderful idea for a non-profit foundation. These days I spend a lot of my time travelling the world with Jean to attend our various Virgin Unite gatherings. Needless to say, she’s never organised for me to arrive at one of these events in such dangerous fashion.
To find out the full story, you’ll need to read Finding My Virginity, my new autobiography.