Winslet and children escape Branson house fire

Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet and her children managed to escape unhurt today after a middle-of-the-night fire ripped through Sir Richard Branson's luxury home in the Caribbean.

Those who fled the flames at The Great House on Necker Island also included Sir Richard's 90-year-old mother, Eve, and his 29-year-old daughter, Holly.

"Around 20 people were in the house and they all managed to get out and they are all fine," said Sir Richard who was staying in another property around 100 yards away with his wife, Joan, and son, Sam, 25.

Sir Richard, 60, bought Necker Island in the early 1980s and began building the eight-bedroom Great House in 1982.

He went on: "We had a really bad tropical storm with winds up to 90mph. A big lightning storm came around 4am and hit the house.

"My son Sam rushed to the house and helped get everyone out. Kate Winslet, her boyfriend and her family were there and Holly and some of her friends were also staying. My mother was there and they managed to get her out and she is fine.

"The main house is completely destroyed and the fire is not yet completely out. My office was based in the house and I have lost thousands of photographs which is very sad."

Sir Richard added: "It's very much the Dunkirk Spirit here. We want to rebuild the house as soon as we can. We have a wonderful staff here and we want them to stay in work.

"We'll all stay here for the time being. There's a lot of damage and we won't be able to stick it back together again right away. It was a beautiful house."

Winslet, 35, who won an Oscar for her role in the 2008 movie The Reader, has a daughter Mia, 10, from her first marriage to Jim Threapleton, and a son, Joe, seven, by second husband, director Sam Mendes, from whom she is separated.

The Great House was expected to be the venue for the marriage later this year of Holly Branson and shipbroker Freddie Andrews.

Part of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, Necker is a private island owned by Sir Richard.

Affording great views, it is used by the Branson family as well as friends, and can also be hired - but at great cost.

Each of the bedrooms has its own balcony, four-poster bed and en-suite bathroom. A staff of 70 look after guests.

PA

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