London is a city that holds a very special place in my heart, as it’s where Virgin started and has grown and thrived. Although I haven’t lived there for many years, it’s the city where I took my first entrepreneurial steps and it’s safe to say that London’s spirit is written into Virgin’s DNA.
British 10k Westminster
So the Virgin Sport British 10K, presented by ASICS, is more than a race to me. It’s a route that takes in some of the most important sites in the city, many of which also have significance to the Virgin story.
The route starts right by Piccadilly Circus, where the flagship Virgin Megastore was situated, and just down the road from the first ever Virgin Records store on Oxford Street. That location was actually a bit unfashionable for the time, but of course we didn’t care about that, because we were going to change the game - and we did, in many ways.
To go from there to Piccadilly Circus, one of London’s most iconic landmarks with huge footfall, was an amazing experience - and even though that Megastore is no longer there, at the time it was another whole new way to shop. Both stores were a completely different experience for customers, and it was the creativity of London that allowed us both to take the risks, and for them to take off.
Richard Branson Virgin Records Early Days
Another landmark in the race that stirs up fond (or should I say mischievous!) memories for me is the London Eye. A classic London landmark to be sure - and one which is the site of one of my favourite PR moments. One morning we received news that British Airways, who sponsored the London Eye, had a technical problem - they couldn’t erect it. All the world’s press was watching, an opportunity far too good to miss, so we got one of our blimps to fly the message “BA Can’t Get It Up!” right over it.
And as for the Thames itself - I’m always reminded of the time we promoted The Sex Pistol’s single, God Save The Queen, by sailing a boat called Queen Elizabeth (that Virgin also happened to own) down the river - and getting chased by good old London bobbies in the process. What could be more British than that? While it might have been controversial at the time, now The Sex Pistols are another vital part of the fabric of the London we’re so proud of - accepted and celebrated just as much as Big Ben itself.
That’s the thing about London - it’s historic, but it’s ever-changing too. It’s open-minded, irreverent, full of drive and curiosity. It’s the values of London that we embody at Virgin, and without this city we wouldn’t be who we are today.
More than anything else, it’s a race that celebrates the best of London - the places, the atmosphere, the people. By getting up close and personal to these landmarks, with no traffic to distract you, you see them the way that few other people do. You gain a new perspective, and a new appreciation for London and everyone in it. Whether cheering friends on or giving it your best shot, it’s a welcome reminder of just how special this city is - and how much it means to so many, not just the Virgin family.
Get involved and head over to Virgin Sport – early-bird ticket prices for the British 10K are on sale now - but ending soon. And before the British 10K, good luck to everyone running the Hackney Half next week, be sure to go along and support another great sporting occasion in London.