My 65 most memorable adventures

“Adventure is best way to explore true self. So I #ChallengeRichard to share his best 65 adventures experience in this 65 years.” I couldn’t agree more Chetan Yallapurkar, and I accept your challenge. No two adventures are the same, and these span my childhood, business launches, personal challenges and much else besides.

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Here are my 65 most memorable adventures:

1. 1961 – Navigated my way through three miles of countryside, after being challenged by my mum to find my own way home

2. 1961 – Jumped in a river in a literal case of sink or swim, after betting my Auntie Joyce 10 shillings that I could swim by the end of our family holiday to Devon.

3. 1962 – Rode 50 miles to Bournemouth from my family’s home in Shamley Green, Surrey, and back again. I remember finally walking into our kitchen feeling like a conquering hero. 

4. 1966 – Protested the Vietnam War in front of the US Embassy in London. 

5. 1968 – Launched my first business Student magazine to challenge people’s perception of pop and youth cultures.

6. 1969 – Gave a homeless man my clothes. My sister called it a cruel act, as she thought I was smelly! The 60s child in me embraced being nude on Oxford Street in London.

7. 1970 – Launched Virgin Mail Order, and the Virgin brand was born! 

8. 1975 – Test-piloted the first microlight in UK. Sadly my instructor was killed in the same plane the next day.  

9. 1975 – Got arrested after a joke I pulled on my friend and business partner, Ken Berry, went wrong. I arranged to have his house emptied and fake policemen attend the sense. The real police didn’t find it funny.

10. 1977 – Sailed a boat down the Thames on Silver Jubilee day to release the Sex Pistol’s single God Save the Queen. We stopped opposite the Houses of Parliament and blasted the music.

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Sex Pistols - Live on Boat Trip Queens Jubilee 1977 Pt1

11. 1977 – Won a court case proving the word 'bollocks' was not profane, after the police took us to court for advertising Never Mind The Bollocks in our record store window.

12. 1977 – Flew to Necker Island to impress and woo my now wife, Joan.

13. 1983 – Got bumped off a flight to the BVI, so I decided to charter a jet and sell tickets under the Virgin Airways moniker. It set in motion the idea for Virgin Atlantic.

14. 1984 – Flew Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural flight on the Maiden Voyager from Gatwick to Newark. Forgot my passport, but eventually made it into America.

15. 1984 – Produced Richard Burton’s last film, 1984. Virgin Films dedicated the film to Richard "With love and admiration.”

16. 1985 – Abseiled down the Centre Point building in London while dressed as Spiderman to impress my children.

17. 1985 – Attempted the fastest Atlantic Ocean crossing. Our boat, the Virgin Atlantic Challenger, capsized close to the finish line in British waters and we had to be rescued by the RAF

18. 1986 – Broke the world record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic. We did it in the Virgin Atlantic Challenger II.

19. 1987 – Went skydiving and pulled the wrong ripcord. Lucky my instructor was close enough by to pull the emergency chute.

20. 1987 – Attempted to complete the first transatlantic crossing in a hot-air balloon, but ended up having to be plucked from the Irish Sea by the Navy

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21. 1988 – Flew a Virgin Jumbo Balloon under Sydney Harbour Bridge to help launch Virgin Records in Darling Harbour.

22. 1989 – Flew a hot-air balloon masquerading as a flying saucer over London, while dressed as an alien.

23. 1990 – Won a $5 million discount from Airbus, after betting that I could hypnotise Airbus CEO, Jean Pierson. I asked Jean what time it was, and he discovered that his watch was gone. Everyone believed that I’d hypnotised him to give it to me. In reality, I’ve got a nimble handshake.

24. 1990 – Crashed the Super Bowl by flying a blimp over the stadium with “NBC CAMERAMEN ARE THE HOTTEST” on the bottom. Needless to say we got a lot of free primetime coverage.

25. 1990 – Travelled to Baghdad with a Virgin Atlantic plane on a rescue mission to bring home hostages.

26. 1991 – Attempted to cross the Pacific Ocean in a hot-air balloon. Everything went wrong. We thought we were going to die, but found our way into the jet stream and eventually landed in the Canadian Arctic, missing our LA destination by 4,000 miles.   

27. 1993 – Took British Airways to court for their Dirty Tricks campaign against Virgin Atlantic, and won.

28. 1994 – Water-skied behind a Virgin blimp while filming an episode of Baywatch. 

29. 1997 – Crash-landed in the Sahara on an unsuccessful attempt to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon.

30. 1998 – Drove a tank down Fifth Avenue in New York City to launch Virgin Cola, and crashed through a wall of Coca-Cola cans.

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Sir Richard Branson - BayWatch SPOOF - 2013 Guiness Book of World Records - SHARK ATTACK -

31. 1998 – Encountered the Chinese Air Force, while accidentally crossing the Himalayas over on another attempt to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon. They threatened to shoot us down.

32. 1998 – Made a record-breaking hot air balloon flight from Morocco to Hawaii. We had been attempting to circumnavigate the globe, but landed in Hawaii after falling out of a jet stream. 

33. 1999 – Flew a blimp bearing the slogan ‘BA Can't Get It Up!!’ over the then British Airways-sponsored London Eye. BA were struggling to erect the wheel due to a technical problem.

34. 2000 – Dangled from a helicopter on a 100ft bungee lead while flying over Sydney to launch Virgin Mobile Australia.

35. 2001 – Water-skied while being pulled along by a helicopter in the BVI.

36. 2003 – Rallied Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan to visit Iraq to persuade Saddam Hussein to step down in the interests of his people. Sadly war broke out the week before we were due to fly.

37. 2003 – Took part in the Birdman competition, in an attempt to fly over the English Channel to France, and to raise money for a new children's hospice in West Sussex.

38. 2004 – Broke a world record driving from Dover to Calais, across the English Channel, in an amphibious car, while dressed in a tuxedo.

39. 2006 – Cameoed in James Bond film Casino Royale, being frisked at Miami airport. 

40. 2007 – Abseiled down the side of Palms Casino to celebrate Virgin America’s first flight to Las Vegas. I hit the building twice, and ended up ripping my trousers, bruising my bottom and hanging there like a rag doll.

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41. 2008 – Attempt at an Eastbound record crossing of the Atlantic ocean, sailing with my children Holly and Sam.

42. 2008 – Embarked on a 1,400-mile dogsled expedition in the Canadian Arctic with my son, to witness first-hand the effects of climate change.

43. 2009 – Went kitesurfing with a naked model on my back.

44. 2010 – Conducted the fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, from a jet ski.

45. 2010 – Ran the Virgin Money London Marathon dressed as a butterfly, at the head of a Guinness World Record-breaking caterpillar including Holly and Sam. 

46. 2011 – Rappelled down the side of Spaceport America’s new air hangar in New Mexico, with my children Holly and Sam. 

47. 2011 – Swam with whale sharks off Isla Mujeres to support WildAid and shark conservation.

48. 2012 – Kiteboarded the English Channel and was awarded a Guinness World Record for being the oldest person to make the journey.

49. 2012 – Scaled Mont Blanc to launch my children’s non-profit foundation, Big Change. 

50. 2012 – Swam with sailfish off Mexico. One nearly took my eye out with its sword.

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Richard Branson - WildAid Whale Sharks - 2011

51. 2012 – Journeyed to Antarctica with Al Gore to survey the effects of climate change.

52. 2012 – Accepted a bet from BA's CEO Willie Walsh. He claimed that Virgin Atlantic wouldn't be still be flying in five years. The wager was a kick in the groin. Not long to go now, but who’s counting… 

53. 2012 – Dived with tiger sharks off the coast of Bahamas, to promote the conservation of the endangered species.

54. 2013 – Joined 317 kitesurfers for the Virgin Kitesurfing Armada. We set a new Guinness World Record for the largest number of kitesurfers ever to complete a one-mile course.

55. 2013 – Cycled the Cape Argus Pick n Pay tour in South Africa, after an in-saddle pitching session the night before.

56. 2013 – Lost a bet with AirAsia CEO, Tony Fernandes, and had to play the role of cabin crew on a flight from Perth to Kuala Lumper. 

57.  2014 – Joined my son, Sam and nephew, Noah for part of the Virgin Strive Challenge. I’m looking forward to completing the whole journey this year.

58. 2014 – Took to the skies on a parabolic flight, to train in zero gravity and experience weightlessness. 

59. 2014 – Kitesurfed with four people on one board and was awarded a Guinness World Records for the most people riding a kitesurf board.

60. 2015 – Volunteered to be a human bowling ball during a Chicago Bulls game.

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61. 2015 – Climbed The Pitons in St Lucia, and ran out of water on the way!

62.  2015 – Visited the Củ Chi tunnels, and experienced how the Việt Cộng lived and fought underground during the Vietnam War.

63. 2015 – Danced on stage at the Global Citizen concert in Central Park with Pearl Jam.

64. 2016 – Swam with dozens of sting rays in Grand Cayman.

65. 2016 – Joined the crew of the legendary voyaging canoe, Hōkūle‘a, for a sail in the British Virgin Islands

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We as humans can achieve great things if we put our mind to it. By embracing the spirit of adventure, we can test ourselves, push the boundaries, challenge the status quo, and laugh a lot along the way.

Can you recount your best adventure? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

Find out more about Virgin’s history with our timeline, and check out my 65 most life-defining moments.  

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