When will British Airways learn? As I wrote in Losing My Virginity, years ago British Airways waged a Dirty Tricks campaign against myself and Virgin Atlantic. I took them to court and won the biggest libel damages in history. I distributed it equally to all our team. It became known as the British Airways Christmas bonus!
Five years ago today, BA Chief Willie Walsh wagered me a very public and painful bet. He bet that the Virgin Atlantic brand would disappear within five years. I disagreed. He said that the loser should accept a “knee in the groin”.
The story started a few days earlier in 2012, when Willie first made his claim that Virgin Atlantic would be gone within half a decade, I responded with what I thought was a good-natured challenge – if the Virgin brand was still flying, he should once again give our Virgin Atlantic team £1 million to share equally as a Christmas bonus – if we were gone I would give BA’s staff £1 million.
Willie publicly responded with his slightly churlish suggestion that we bet a knee in the groin instead. Although people might be amused to see me give Willie a low blow, I ideally have no wish to do so. So to settle this matter once and for all, and in the spirit of Christmas, I suggest he donates £1 million to Virgin Atlantic’s team.
If he doesn’t agree then we’ll just have to agree a time, date and place for the knee in the groin…
Once this is over (one way or the other) lunch or dinner is on me Willie, and perhaps we can draw a line under the past.
Update 15:25 on 11/12/2017:
The original bet was always about whether the Virgin Atlantic brand would be around in five years. It is. We are still in the air and will be for many, many years to come. Since Willie is trying to wriggle out of that bet by changing the terms of it – let’s address that. He now claims it was who controls the business at the end of five years.
As of today, five years on, we still own and control 51 per cent of Virgin Atlantic, appoint the majority of directors and the chairman of the board. Next year we hope to complete a new joint venture with Delta and Air France-KLM, which will strengthen Virgin Atlantic and its brand for years to come. Either way, it’s clear he’s lost the bet.
When Sir Colin Marshall lost the court case, we had lunch together, buried the hatchet and became good friends. We worked together on a lot of charity events. It’s a shame the same can’t apply to Willie Walsh – my offer of lunch or dinner still stands, it’s a good time to draw a line under the past.