Is there no end to the thrills Richard Branson brings to people in every corner of the world and in every walk of life? First, as if being the offspring of a billionaire doesn’t come with enough perks already, Holly, Sam and their father will be the first to go into low earth orbit in Virgin Galactic’s new SpaceShipTwo aircraft when it enters service next year. Second, his Virgin Care business has just won an NHS outsourcing contract for childcare in Devonshire, worth £130m.
Virgin Galactic has already signed up a host of the rich and famous as guinea pig passengers, including Hollywood couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. (Their enormous brood of children will have to pay extra.) Although no paying customers will be getting lost in space until 2014, the flights will take passengers 60 miles into lower orbit and keep them up there for around two hours. That will be enough time to ply them with some Virgin Cola and earn some serious frequent flier miles. Return tickets – there is no one-way option – start at £128,000 and Branson has already signed up 529 people, most of them slebs and business people.
In addition, Branson announced that a new service to put satellites in space for corporate clients will piggyback on the Virgin Galactic air and spacecraft. He reckons the cost of putting one up at the moment is around $50m, but his new prices will bring it down to $10m. So he may corner the ‘commercial satellite launching’ market too. Ever the innovator.
Over in Devon, where spaceflight is far cry from the sheer rurality, Virgin Care has just been named the preferred bidder for a £130m NHS outsourcing contract for children's healthcare in Devon. So he blasts his kids into space and then takes over Great Ormond Street-style duties in the southwest. It's not a small deal either - the unit currently employs 1,100 staff treating thousands of children per year.
Old Beardy’s mind is as alive to possibilities as ever, especially since he went kite surfing off his private Caribbean island with a stark naked model hanging off his back. One minute, this modern day Willy Wonka is inexplicably traversing the English Channel by kite and arriving on the coast of France to be greeted by a suspicious squad of Gendarmes. Next minute he’s buying nationalised banks for a killing and putting out tropical storm fires that ignited his home on his private Necker island.
Is there nothing that is beyond this man?