| Fun on flight: Branson with a model
London, July 29: Richard Branson, the 57-year-old chairman of Virgin Atlantic Airways, today admitted that he was a fully paid-up member of “the mile-high club” — a euphemism for those who claim to have had sex during a flight.
It was not on one of his own planes, though, but when he was only 19 years old and flying to America on an airline operated by Freddie Laker, the British pioneer who dreamt up the novel concept of cheap trans-Atlantic flights.
Given the moral climate in India, such an admission would be unthinkable from his Indian counterparts even if they were members of the mile-high club.
In fact, one of the very few Indians to have claimed membership was the late Fateh Singh Rao Gaekwad, the erstwhile Maharaja of Baroda, who made the reassuring boast in a Christmas letter to his English friends in London who were a little concerned his nickname was “Jackie”.
Again, compared with India, where few in public life would be prepared to openly discuss their sexual history, there are few such inhibitions in Britain where Branson, for example, talked about what happened in the past in a matter of fact manner.
“I was sitting in economy on a Freddie Laker flight, next to this very attractive lady, as we headed to LA,” said Branson, in an interview with GQ, a men’s magazine. “We got chatting and it went a bit further. And it was every man’s dream, to be honest. I was about 19, I think.”
“I remember getting off the plane and she turned to me and said, ‘Look, it’s slightly embarrassing but I am meeting my husband at arrivals, would you mind holding back a bit...’. But it was a memorable flight.”
He added: “The problem with plane loos generally is that they are very small, and the acrobatics can’t take too long because there’s no room and people start banging on the door. What I remember vividly is seeing four handprints on the mirror as we finished, and thinking I’d better wipe them off.”
Such an admission comes easily from one of Britain’s admired businessmen with a personal future estimated at £4 billion. It is worth pointing out that he is happily married to his second wife, Joan, and the couple have a daughter, Holly, and a son, Sam.
In his autobiography, Losing My Virginity, Branson revealed how his first marriage to Kirsten Tomassi, an American, ended because of complications after a wife-swapping session with a rock star.
Today, however, though surrounded by airhostesses, he does not have the reputation of being a playboy. And, on the business front, to Branson must be accorded some of the credit for the almost open skies policy that now operates between the UK and India.
In 2004, he introduced double beds on selected flights to America, a facility yet to be brought in on services to Mumbai and Delhi. Branson has always maintained that the next step – private bedrooms – would be easy to introduce on the A380 superjumbo, which Vijay Mallya, among other prospective purchasers, is committed to buying.
At the time, he said: “We have a lot of honeymoon couples who fly on Virgin, and a lot of couples who have been together for many years. There is no reason why they shouldn’t cuddle up on board like they would at home.”
When the double beds idea was first floated, Branson rejected the charge that he was encouraging immoral behaviour. “The legitimate mile-high club is finally aboard. You can do it on cruise ships, you can do it at home, so why shouldn’t you be able to have relationships on planes'”