Forty years ago this Sunday, my life changed for the better, forever. On February 7th 1976 at our Virgin Records studio, the Manor, I experienced love at first sight upon meeting a blonde-haired, down to earth, Scottish beauty named Joan, who just happened to be making a cup of tea.
Young Joan Branson
I generally make up my mind about someone within 30 seconds of meeting them, and Joan won my heart instantly. She was unlike any other women I had ever met. She was beautiful. She was bright. She was witty. She was down to earth. She was fun. And she had eyes made of magic. However, the feeling wasn’t immediately reciprocated. I had to work hard for her attention, and ultimately affection.
I found out that she worked in a bric-a-brac shop in Westbourne Grove called Dodo’s, close to our Virgin Records office on Vernon Yard, and I began to persistently hang around the shop – popping in to buy countless objects that I really didn’t need, and had no room for since I lived on a small houseboat. But it was worth it for many reasons; because I got to see Joan, and because one purchase – an old Danish bacon advertising sign with a caption that read: ‘Now, that’s what I call music’ – inspired the Now! CD compilations.
Young Joan Branson
Eventually my courting paid off, and soon we were meeting up regularly; stealing 20 precious minutes at lunch, quarter of an hour before a meeting, or a few moments after she shut up shop. But our relationship wasn’t straightforward, and two years later, still determined to win her heart, I made a grand gesture.
Upon hearing that there was an island in the British Virgin Islands up for sale, I called the people selling it to enquire. As we were still in the early days of Virgin Records, I by no means had the cash to buy it. Luckily, the realtor didn’t know this and offered me an all-expenses paid trip to see the island that included a house and helicopter! I agreed to go on one condition – if I could bring a guest.
Richard Branson and Joan Branson in the 1980s
To my delight, Joan agreed to join me on the trip. Together we strolled around Necker Island and dreamed up plans for turning it into our home and a haven for musicians. Smitten with the unspoilt paradise, and keen to impress Joan, I offered the highest amount I could afford: $100,000. The realtor’s ‘discounted’ asking price was $6 million, so you can imagine the response I got. There was no laid-on helicopter on our return trip, and we hitch-hiked back to the airport!
A year went by and nobody else made an offer, so the owner, who was desperate to sell, finally agreed to a purchase price of $180,000. I begged and borrowed this money, and Joan and I made it our home and were married there 11 years later.
Richard and family in the 1980s
I don’t like to think what my life would be like had I not met Joan. She is the most amazing and supportive partner, wonderful mother to our two lovely children Holly and Sam, and perfect grandmother to our three beautiful grandchildren, Artie, Etta and Eva-Deia.
Richard Branson and family at Holly and Freddie's wedding
Richard Branson and Joan Branson 2015 wedding anniversary
Happy anniversary Joan. Forty years have flown by with you at my side. It’s been one big ridiculous adventure of fun, friendship and love. Thank you for making life extraordinary. Your eyes are still as magic as they were forty years ago!