I’ve experienced so much change over my 66 years. I’ve explored many different business opportunities; gone from a single man, to a father or two, to a grandfather of three; and had to move with the times and the technology. One thing, however, that has remained constant is my beard.
Richard Branson early days young
I began growing my beard back in my Student magazine days, when, as a young journalist, I was challenging the status quo and giving my generation a voice. The 60s and 70s were all about challenging the establishment, so growing a beard felt like the perfect display of defiance.
While the magazine didn’t last, my facial hair did. In fact, the only time I have shaved it off since was for one very unusual publicity shoot. On launching our new venture, Virgin Brides in 1996, I decided to don a wedding dress, slap on some blue eye-shadow and shave clean. Unfortunately the business never really took off – maybe because there aren’t too many virgin brides, or perhaps it was the picture that put people off. I think my beardless face made more headlines than the company itself. Call me superstitious, but I’ve never fully shaved again, and ever since that day I have worn my facial hair as a badge of honour.
Earlier this year, I had a chance encounter with a young man in Sydney called Jimmy Niggles, who explained to me that with this badge of honour comes great responsibility. As the founder of the Beard Season, Jimmy is on a mission to turn impressive beards into life-saving conversation starters.
Growing a beard as a reminder to get your skin checked for melanoma might seem like an odd connection, but that’s the relationship that Jimmy and the team behind the Beard Season are promoting. The idea was inspired when Jimmy tragically lost a friend to melanoma at the young age of 26. Australians are well-known for their relaxed, outdoor culture, so sadly it’s no surprise that the country has the highest rate of melanoma incidences in the world. With that in mind, and in memory of his friend, Jimmy hatched a plan to take action. Ever since he has been challenging the world – and yours truly – to get a skin check.
Richard Branson beard season
Growing a beard has long been an attempt at making a scene, so the Beard Season is channelling this attention-grabbing act for good, to save lives. Jimmy and his friends now call every winter Beard Season and encourage men to grow a beard, get a skin check and then use their beard to tell others to do the same.
Living in the BVI I am very conscious of the damage that the sun can cause, and make sure I’m always wearing a shirt, sunscreen and sunglasses whenever I’m outside or out on the water. However, sometimes you can do everything under the sun to prevent it but skin cancer can still happen and must be treated. Beard Season is a wonderful initiative, which I wholeheartedly support. I hope that whenever you see a picture of me and see my beard, it reminds you to get your skin checked.
Since starting six years ago, Beard Season has been making waves all over the globe, spurring Jimmy to reach for a new goal. Realising the power of his beard and the great work it has achieved to date (literally saving lives), Jimmy is on a mission to sell his beard for one million dollars. If he reaches his ambitious target, he’ll shave his face clean and use the funds to help his charity go global.