In the week leading up Dad’s 70th birthday, as a tribute to his seven decades on our beautiful planet, I shared seven wonderful life lessons he has taught me over the years. I am so proud of Dad and everything he has achieved, I hope you enjoy these lessons as much as I did growing up.
1. Always be present
No matter what Dad is doing, where he is going, or who he is with – he is always right there in that moment. Over the years, I’ve watched his team trying to hurry him along at events as Dad talks to a young girl or boy who dreams of flying a spaceship, or takes notes from a customer giving him feedback or advice. Whether Dad is out on a walk with the grandkids or having a quiet cup of tea while working in a café - no matter who approaches him, he takes the time to listen. Dad has taught me that there is nothing so urgent that you can’t spend time talking to people, learning about their lives, listening to their lived experiences and simply be present in the moment. It is often in the most unlikely of situations and, from a friendly stranger, that we learn so much.
2. Respect everyone’s right to be who they want to be
When I was three-years-old, I went up to Mum and Dad and I told them I wanted to be a boy. It turned out this wasn’t a passing phase and it continued right up until I was nearly eleven-years-old. During that whole time, my mum and dad never questioned my decision. Later in life, I asked them if it was hard to totally accept and to not put any pressure on me to conform. They told me they would never stop me being who I wanted to be, and that they would always love me and my Brother unconditionally. Dad has instilled this same culture of acceptance and belonging at Virgin over the last 50 years, and I’ve continued to passionately promote it in my 12 years in the business too. Everyone should be able to live their truth and be 100 percent themself and I’m grateful I was taught this so early on.
3. When you feel you can’t, know that you can
Dad has never let fear stop him – in business and in life. I sometimes think it actually pushes him to say yes. Growing up, we would sit around the dinner table, sometimes in disbelief, while Dad talked us through his latest ideas like: “Per and I are attempting to fly a hot air balloon around the world,” or “we’re thinking about driving a tank down Times Square to launch Virgin Cola.” In 2016, Dad and I embarked on the 2,000 km Strive Challenge to raise funds for Big Change. Dad was by far the oldest team member in the month long challenge, but when those of us decades his junior would end up in tears, Dad just kept on going. He would get up at 4.30am and set off hours before everyone else because he didn’t want to hold anyone back. He never once complained and would always smile and support the team. I would keep him company some mornings and those days were the best – just my dad and me. Thank you for that time, Dad, and for teaching me that No matter how challenging a situation is, how exhausted you might be and how much you want to throw in the towel – the human spirit always has that little final burst of grit and determination to get you through.
4. Find the thing that makes you jump out of bed in the morning, and work won’t feel like work at all
For any kid growing up watching your parents love what they do is one of life’s best lessons – dad was always so open and passionate about the work he was doing and would always share what he was up to with Me and Sam.– in fact I'm sure by doing this he instilled in us the same joy and work ethic. As a serial entrepreneur, Dad always encouraged Sam and me to pursue our passions. He tasked us with finding something that fulfilled us and to explore how we could make a positive impact on the world in some way. It’s a lovely mission for kids. Dad also taught us that work and play don’t have to be separate. You spend most of your life working, so you've got to have some fun along the way. Dad sees everyone at Virgin as friends and I loved growing up surrounded by our #VirginFamily. Bonding with our amazing people, having a drink and dancing our socks off is the best way to get to know people. It has been a wonderful life lesson to learn that work can be both fun and fulfilling if you follow your true passion.
5. Family - first and always!
My brother Sam and I have a big family. Huge in fact. Last count there was over 70,000 of us! As a baby, Mum nursed me on a houseboat in Little Venice, that also happened to be Virgin's head office. When Sam was born, we moved from boat to house and Virgin moved with us! We are never separated from our Virgin family and they are never separated from us. Granddad Ted and Granny Eve, my mum, Sam and I go to every launch, go on every inaugural exploring new Virgin territories and we all LOVE the many staff parties. As a collective family, we’ve gone through many hard times in the past – from the British Airways ‘Dirty Tricks’ campaign to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the SARS epidemic, two financial crises and now Covid-19. A rare trait in a global business leader, Dad has never been afraid to show his emotions and vulnerability to our Virgin family. He has taught us how important, especially in the tough times, it is to have a huge capacity to love and to not hold back from sharing that love for all of our people, openly.
6. Never lose your sense of childlike wonder
A born practical joker, Dad loves dressing up and acting silly. He approaches situations with a light and humorous touch that is rare in business leaders. Dad has never believed that being ruthless achieves anything. To see the lightness and fun in every situation and bring a human touch to everything he does is as much a part of him as breathing. As kids, he put up with us interrupting important phone calls or disrupting meetings almost daily! He never once told us to make ourselves scarce. I once called him about an exam result in medical school and was babbling away when, after a few minutes, Dad said: “Holly, darling, this is such great news. Can I call you back? I’m just doing a speech in front of 20,000 people!” I still can’t believe he picked up the phone on the stage! Thank you Dad, for your wonderful laugh, your adventurous spirit, and your childlike sense of wonder. You make being alive so much fun! Thanks for confirming our Grandads life motto: “Isn’t life wonderful."
7. Each and every one of us holds the future in the palm of our hands. Ask yourself, how do I make that future better for all?
From launching the Student Advisory Centre, through to raising awareness of the AIDS epidemic by starting Mates Condoms in the 80’s, rescuing hostages from Baghdad in 1990 and sending medical relief flights into Iraq immediately after Gulf War 2 - Dad never turns his back on issues that other business leaders might find too controversial. Dad stood side by side with Nelson Mandela to fight Apartheid, and is tirelessly calling for an end to the death penalty, bring second chances to ex-offenders and tackling divisive but important topics such as drug reform. He puts himself out there and he don’t back down. Dad has taught us that a good life, lived, is one in which you are valued, respected and loved. A great life, lived, is striving daily to ensure that everyone in the world is valued, respected and loved. Freddie and I are so grateful that our young children will grow up watching and learning from their beloved Granddad Richard, as you continue to fight on behalf of the marginalised, the victimised, the abused and the forgotten.
Dad, I can’t thank you enough for teaching me these valuable life lessons and for inspiring so many entrepreneurs, activists, business leaders, dreamers and young people around the world. I couldn’t ask for a better role model and I couldn’t imagine a better Dad. Love you!