Having a very well-known Dad it’s hardly surprising the amount of times I’ve heard, “it must have been amazing growing up with Richard Branson as your Dad. I bet you learnt so much!” Or the amount of times I’ve been asked, “what’s he like in real life?”. My answers are always, “it was, I did, and, like a Dad! Understandably, curiosity about my dad dominates most of the conversations I have about my family life.
I love talking about him and he is a truly wonderful father, but it may surprise people to know that my (and Sam’s) formative years were in fact very, very matriarchal! We grew up in a family full of incredibly strong, intelligent, driven and loving women. To mark International Women’s Day, I’d like to pay tribute to those women who shaped (and continue to shape) my life and to whom I owe so much.
Growing up, our house was full of Glaswegian women. My mum, her two sisters, Rose and Dorothy, and their brother John moved down to London in the ’60s and ‘70s from Scotland. The three sisters worked together, socialised together and ‘set the world to rights’ pretty much every day. No matter what was going on in school and the comings and goings of our Virgin people (our home was basically Virgin HQ), we could always rely on Mum and her sisters for a big hug, down-to-earth advice and unconditional love. The incredibly strong bond between them never wavered - no matter what the world threw at them.
Very sadly, my big sister Clare died when she was only a few days old and I never got to experience first hand the joy of growing up with a sister (I was incredibly lucky though, as I did grow up with the most amazing brother anyone could ever wish for my loving, creative, talented little brother Sam… love you!) What my mum, Auntie Dorothy, Auntie Rose, my wonderful cousin Wendy and, all my amazing girlfriends, taught me was to value and never underestimate the strength that you get from the wisdom and support of all the great women in your life.
A sense of living life to the full and treating every day as an adventure perfectly sums up the women on my dad’s side of the family. My dad’s grandmother, Granny Dot, took up ballroom dancing and got a world record for hitting a hole-in-one at golf in her nineties. Dad’s Auntie Clare (who my dad absolutely adored) was a constant fixture in our lives and she excitedly talked about her latest projects and ideas. Auntie Clare used to parachute out of planes – before it became a thing – just for fun… When people ask us where our adventure gene comes from, it isn’t a man who springs to mind but Auntie Clare!
My granny Eve, as many of you know, is a powerhouse of energy, grit and determination. It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing that I’ve learnt from her, but a few that come to mind include: to always keep your brain agile, to remain curious about all that life has to offer and, the importance of being an independent, self-sufficient and strong woman. Oh, and guess what, she’s still going strong at 95 years of age!
Her two daughters – my Auntie Vanessa and Auntie Lindy – are beyond creative! Auntie Vanessa is an amazing hotelier, art expert and soon to be first time author. Auntie Lindy is the most incredible artist and sculptor - literally the best I know - and managed it all while raising five boys! I also want to give a massive shout out to my cousin Flo – Auntie Vanessa’s only daughter alongside her three sons – who is also an amazing artist, writer and curator. We were the only girls, out of 11 cousins on my dad’s side of the family, so we’ve always had each other’s backs. These women are the epitome of intelligence, independence and creativity and they taught me ‘girl power’ in spades!
As well as all these incredible females, my daughters Etta and Lola (and of course my son Artie) have gained quite a few more! Freddie’s Mum, Granny Jill, and his wonderful sisters Clemmie, Milly and Daisy are a constant presence in our lives. Full of joy for life and unbelievably generous with their time, support and love – they are the most positive role models a parent could ever ask for. Along with Sam’s wife, my incredible sister-in-law Bellie (who has a heart the size of a planet!), our kids will never lack for strong, positive, loving women in their lives. They adore them all.
Not only on International Women’s Day, but every day, I feel so incredibly lucky and grateful, to have grown up embraced by, and constantly aware of, the love, intelligence and strength of so many unbelievable women.
To all of them – I want to say thank you and I love you.
On #IWD today, give a shout out below to all the wonderful women who have shaped your life. I’d love to hear all about them.