To celebrate this month’s virgin.com theme – It runs in the family – we interviewed two of Virgin’s most loved family members – Anna and Helen Clarke.
Helen and Anna have worked at some of Virgin's most loved companies, spent nights dancing together on Necker Island, weeks travelling together through Ulusaba, and evenings dining with the Bransons, enjoying Joan’s delicious cooking. These two incredible women took some time out to chat with us about what it’s like to be part of the Virgin family, the pros and cons of working with your sibling, and their favourite Branson family facts.
When did Virgin make the brilliant decision to hire you and how did it all come to be?
Helen: My Virgin career started at Virgin Atlantic as a cabin crew member in 2004. Anna was already working there as an In Flight Beauty Therapist (IFBT). I’d spent four years calling the recruitment line, getting application forms and filling them out – I’d just never got around to sending one back! When Anna started working for Virgin she persuaded me to actually send one in.I finally got my wings and started flying with Virgin in September 2004.
Anna: I joined Virgin Atlantic in 2003. It was a four stage interview process and when I made it through I was completely ecstatic. In 2006 I was asked to apply for the position of Spa Therapist on Necker Island. I was successful, and what was initially to be a one year secondment ended up turning into four glorious years working on Necker Island! I’m now thrilled to be working for Virgin Unite as the Events Manager.
Is Virgin the first company you’ve both worked at together? What are the pros and cons of working with your sibling?
Helen: Anna and I worked at Virgin Atlantic at similar times, as well as being on Necker Island together. Working as crew we rarely got any flights together, but the flights that we did have together were always really fun – it was brilliant to be down route with your sister exploring new cities and cultures. Then I moved to Necker - when moving somewhere as far from the UK as Necker Island, it is the nicest feeling to know that if you're missing home that you can just go and see your sister, have a good old chat and a glass of wine. You always have a little piece of home just around the corner! Because we've worked in different departments ar Virgin we haven't been on top of each other and therefore always look forward to bumping in to one another. Now that Anna is working for the events team at Virgin Unite, I don't get to see her everyday, but she still does trips out to Necker and Africa during the year and we get to spend loads of time together. We were in Kenya and South Africa together last year, which was amazing. Working hard but playing just as hard!
Anna: Helen and I always had different jobs when we were younger. Sadly she never worked with me at the whipped ice-cream shop! So yes, Virgin is the only company that has brought our working lives together! Honestly, I can’t think of a single con. I love her and I love that through our jobs we’ve been able to see the world together. Virgin has allowed us to see each other regularly despite now living on other sides of the world.
Does Virgin have a family feel about it? Do you think that’s an important factor in Virgin’s success?
Anna: Absolutely, yes. Richard and the rest of the Branson family are completely involved in each others lives and there’s an amazing sense of family and warmth whenever they’re around – toward immediate family and to all of us who are part of the extended Virgin family.
Helen: Yes of course! It has a massive family feel. It really is an important factor. You're so aware of Richard and his own family's huge involvement in the company and the brand, more so than I'd say any other company in the world. It's what has made Virgin the company it is today. Our younger sister Rachael (pictured above in blue) even worked at the lodge and Kasbah Tamadot for a year, so what does that tell you?! The nicest part of it feeling like a family, is that you feel part of something very special and I think that's why so many people have stayed with the company for as long as they have.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Anna: It’s hard to know where to start. An incredible part of my role with Virgin Unite is running and attending our Leadership Gatherings on Necker Island. These are completely life changing experiences – I’ve met some of the world’s most inspiring people that are working hard, doing good and making the world better. Working out of the Battleship Building is also wonderful. The feeling in this building is so welcoming and inviting, hours are flexible and my colleagues are amazing. Another thing is the way I’ve been able to transition into new and exciting roles in the one company. I’ve had an incredible career so far with Virgin.
Helen: The diversity and variety that everyday brings, the travelling to many countries all over the world, visiting other Virgin companies and meeting the colleagues who make these companies what they are – the list is endless! I've made life long friendships doing this job and there is probably nothing better than that.
Richard enjoys playing cupid – has he ever tried matchmaking you? How did it go?
Helen: Ha, oh yes! And he still does! I dated the lovely Westy in the BVI for a number of years and that was because Richard thought we'd be a good match, took me on a business trip to Chicago and San Francisco and then left me in San Francisco for the weekend because he'd found out Westy was there. He'd even called Westy to let him know what he was planning on doing! They completely plotted it all out between them!
Anna: Oh goodness, all of the time. How did it go? Well, I’m still single, so he needs to work a bit harder at it! My favourite story about Richard’s matchmaking efforts (for me) was back in 2008 when we were in South Africa, he went off hiking up a mountain one afternoon and met a group of guys who he thought I might fall in love with. So he invited them to a Virgin party we were attending that night in the hopes to match make….however…no one fell in love!
Tell us your favourite fact about a Branson family member
Anna: No question. Richard’s wife Joan being an amazing cook! Obviously what I love most about this fact is that I have been blessed enough to enjoy her incredible food. I love her Shepherds pie! Joan regularly bakes homemade dinners on Necker Island and sends them down to the staff accommodation for everyone to enjoy. Such a thoughtful lady!
Helen: Sam Branson is a great guitar player and singer! It is an absolute treat when he comes to Necker, sits around the bonfire and jams with his friends and some of the talented Necker staff. It's always a good night when Sam gets the guitar out.