My first love

My first love – who I dated from when I was 16 – was a lovely young girl named Rudi. She was Dutch and came on exchange to stay with my family in the UK for a few months to learn English. We fell for each other instantly, and hard. When she was in England she was wonderfully supportive, literally holding my hand while I worked around the clock to set up Student magazine.

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She became the magazine’s Dutch foreign correspondent, writing on social issues and interviewing the likes of the Provos – a radical social movement in Holland. But, sadly, as Student became successful and Virgin launched, life got in the way of our relationship and we grew apart.

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Over the past 45 years, I’ve often wondered what she’s doing, where she lives and how her life turned out. It’s always been a great mystery. Then, a few months ago, out of the blue I received a letter, saying that if I was ever in Amsterdam to look her up. Delightfully surprised, I shared the news with my wife Joan and children Holly and Sam – who were all equally intrigued. 

In the city to speak at an event at the Ziggo Dome in October, I got in contact. I almost didn’t recognise Rudi – if it wasn’t for her lovely smile – when she arrived for lunch with her two adult children. But, wow did the memories fly back when she pulled out a booklet of letters I sent her all those years ago – pages on pages of poetry, written by an impressionable teenager experiencing the wild emotions of romantic love for the first time. 

Richard and rudi - amsterdam

Anyone that follows my blog regularly might remember that I posted a poem last year, called Lacking Love, which I wrote when I was 16 years old:

“You recall, before our parting, little Dutch girl,

The time we exchanged our love and rode among streams together

Innumerable streams

On the back of mountains, and our separate fates

Black as the smoke waiting for us”

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Rudi was that little Dutch girl.

45 years is a long time to go without seeing someone, and so much has changed in that time. However, it was wonderful reflecting on the amazing years we had together. The letters tell a thrilling tale, not just of our love story but of Student magazine, the beginnings of Virgin, and the cultural and social landscape of the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

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As well as the letters and poems, she also gave me a number of photos. Sadly most of the physical reminders that I had were destroyed when the fire burnt down Necker Island’s Great House. I was moved that Rudi not only kept everything I sent her, but that she also wanted to share them with me.

It’s so important that we all look to the future and focus on what’s to come, but we should never forget where we’ve come from and the people and things that have helped make us what we are today. 

Richard and rudi - amsterdam

Thanks Rudi. Let’s not let so long pass again before our next catch up.

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