During my various adventures, I faced almost certain death on a number of occasions. It was an incredibly harrowing time for my family. Alongside Joan, Holly and Sam, my parents were always there with me – as I set off, keeping me up-to-date by radio, and welcoming me home with open arms and tired smiles. I know I caused them a lot of grief and made them lose a lot of sleep, but they were still always supportive.
After completing both our Atlantic and Pacific endeavours, Per and I (along with Steve Fossett) decided to take on a new challenge: this time to circumnavigate the globe. We launched Virgin Global Challenger from Marrakech, but soon came across trouble and had to crash land in Algeria -and then on a subsequent trip in the middle of the Pacific.
As you can imagine, my parents were nervous and worried, but it wasn’t all so bad – seeing us off from Marrakech, they fell in love with Morocco and its people. What’s more, they came across a beautiful run down property in the Atlas Mountains called Kasbah Tamadot. We soon bought it and restored its beauty, transforming it into a magical holiday retreat.
Today, the peaceful enclave is still my mother’s favourite place to visit and stay – not only because it’s absolutely breath-taking, but because it is the home of her charity organisation, the Eve Branson Foundation. With a mission to improve the lives of young people in the Atlas Mountains, mum and the foundation work tirelessly within the local community to inspire opportunity through entrepreneurship.
I was thrilled to join mum early this month to open the foundation’s new weaving centre and spend time with trainees of the Tansghart Woodwork Centre. The weaving centre teaches girls from nearby villages the traditional Berber artisan craft of weaving using centuries-old style looms, while the woodwork centre trains young men in carpentry skills. I was incredibly touched when some of the boys made me a beautiful sign, wishing me well after my recent accident. They are a very considerate and talented bunch.
Both centres aim to arm pupils with important skills that can help them generate an income and create greater opportunities for their futures. The finished products are sold in businesses throughout Marrakech, and at Kasbah Tamadot.
When we purchased Kasbah Tamadot, we did so with a vision to give back to the surrounding community. The people of Morocco were incredibly supportive of our ballooning adventures, despite all the noise and activity they bought to Marrakesh, so we wanted to say thank you by helping the local Berber community - teaching people English and employing as a many people as possible - and running a business that encourages a sustainable future for the area. In fact, all of our Virgin Limited Edition properties have the same ethos - to do as much as possible to support local communities.