7 September 2017
As Hurricane Irma causes untold destruction across the Caribbean, it’s devastating to see the damage left in its wake.
Amidst the complete devastation, a place close to my heart was hit. I am gutted for Richard Branson and the family, and for everybody who works on Necker Island.
It’s a place I hold incredibly dear to my heart and I know how much Richard loves Necker. I remember a conversation about buying and selling brands and as he talked of his various Virgin businesses, I remember him always talking about Necker differently. I say business because whilst it’s an island, Necker is run like a business. The difference is that this business is a home and has special memories. It’s the first place that Richard took Joan, before he’d even bought the island, to impress her.
The Bransons built up the island by themselves, stone by stone. Decades of care and attention have gone into every single detail. Necker Island also employs hundreds of people and is a huge part of the community in BVI.
Obviously, it was devastating when they lost the Great House in a fire a few years ago but they came back stronger. I am certain that they will again, even though the scale of the disaster is so much bigger than a fire. It’s affecting the whole community, the whole area and a colossal number of people.
The Branson family are no doubt already helping others
It’s hard to imagine where to begin rebuilding whole lives after a disaster like this. It’s impossible to comprehend.
I know Richard is an incredibly caring individual who will find that hard and will no doubt suffer in silence whilst he looks to help others, because that’s who he is. And that’s what this situation needs: people coming together to help each other.
Necker Island is an extraordinary place. Often, on holiday, you don’t really make a lot of friends and keep yourself to yourself. Necker’s different. I have made some incredible friends there – including Richard, Joan and the whole family. In fact, I am cycling with Sam and Holly to raise money for their charity later in the year.
It’s a place where we have made a great many memories. I remember
our holiday many years ago, with Richard coming over and shouting ‘right kids, let’s go!’. He scooped up our children, saying he wanted to practise being a grandad so that Gail and I could have some time together. I popped by later that night to kiss the girls goodnight and they were fast asleep already, tired out! They came back at 11am the next morning bursting with energy, talking about tortoises and all of the mischief they’d gotten up to with Richard and Joan.
Our children have grown up there.
There are not many places in the world where children can roam free. Necker Island is one of those few places. You feel safe there, you know everyone on the island and that means the girls can enjoy some independence. Often while there for a ‘family holiday’, we’d not see them from breakfast until lunchtime and then not again until dinner! Unless, of course, they zipped by on a land rover going on a safari with some friends they made, or riding by on a hundred-year-old giant tortoise!
The happiest memories I have are of being together with my family and seeing them happy. There’s nothing more that you could want for your children.
I know that Richard is one of the most resilient entrepreneurs on the planet. I have no doubt that his focus will now be on fixing the damage across the whole area, not just on Necker. Virgin has already issued a statement to that effect earlier today.
What can take decades to build can be destroyed in a day, but that’s the nature of business and life. Richard is a very popular guy and will have a lot of people who want to help him fix the damage, me being one of them.
Sending my best and all of our love over to the Caribbean.