My life in travel: Richard Branson

'Memories are made when travelling, not when you're chained to a desk'

Sir Richard Branson founded the Virgin Group in 1970 and Virgin Atlantic in 1984, which starts flights from Heathrow to Manchester, Edinburgh and Aberdeen this week. His new safari camp, Mahali Mzuri, opens in Kenya in July (mahalimzuri.virgin.com).

First holiday memory?

Salcombe in Devon. I remember it because it was the holiday when I learnt to swim. My aunt bet me 10 shillings that I couldn't master it by the end of the fortnight. The water was freezing that year, but I was determined to win the bet. It wasn't until we were on our way home, and we stopped by a river, that I finally managed it.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

Devon holds a special place in my heart. As a child, I normally went on holiday to Bantham and have lots of happy memories from my time there. I used to catch sand eels in the early morning and go fishing for bass throughout the day. I remember a gull taking my bait.

Best holiday?

Necker [Branson's private isle in the British Virgin Islands]. I've got so many wonderful memories of times spent there with family and friends over the years. Two occasions stand out: my own wedding more than 20 years ago, and my daughter Holly's in 2011. Joan and I were thrilled, not only that she choose to have her wedding on Necker, but that she picked the same day as us, which now makes our anniversary even more special. It was also memorable because it took place in the ruins of the Great House after the fire and before the bulldozers came in to rebuild.

What have you learnt from your travels?

That there are still so many places to see and not enough time to do it. Seeing the world has been so enriching for me – I would encourage everyone to see as much of it as they can.

Ideal travelling companion?

My wife Joan, Holly, her husband Freddie and my son Sam with his new wife Isabella. For me, it's about having my family and friends around me when I'm away.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

Adrenalin junkie. You only get one shot at life so you need to make the most of it. I've probably calmed down in recent years but I still like to be as adventurous as possible and stay active. My biggest passion sports-wise is kite-surfing.

Holiday reading?

I read everything, but generally more fact than fiction – especially autobiographies and biographies. I've read Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela at least twice on holiday. Every time I'm totally awed by his vision, strength and forgiveness. I feel honoured to have got to know him and his wonderful wife Graça over the years.

Where has seduced you?

Madagascar. I went there last year with my son and it truly captured my heart. It was so sad to see 95 per cent of the beautiful rainforests are being destroyed. Luckily, the remaining 5 per cent is absolutely magnificent with more diversity of species than almost anywhere else in the world. We're campaigning hard to help protect what is left of Madagascar and its wildlife.

Worst travel experience?

I love travelling full stop – so while I've had some harrowing instances, I never look at them negatively. Memories are made when you're travelling – not when you're chained to your desk. My worst one, however, must have been crossing the Pacific in a hot-air balloon when everything that could have gone wrong did. For three days, my Swedish teammate, Per Lindstrand, and I were both certain we'd never come home. As it turned out, we missed Los Angeles by 3,000 miles and ended up in the Arctic.

Favourite drive?

I always love going on a safari drive whenever I visit Ulusaba Private Game Reserve in South Africa. I've been fortunate to see so many incredible animals over the years and each time it's completely different. Following Ulusaba's pack of wild dogs is my highlight.

Best meal abroad?

At Icebergs on Bondi Beach. It has the most stunning views over the beach, fantastic food and wine, and you're always guaranteed a good time. I love Australia, especially Sydney, which has got to be one of my favourite places in the world.

Where next?

Kenya this summer for the opening of the new camp in the Maasai Mara, just in time for the annual Great Migration, which sees up to one million wildebeest, zebra, gazelles and other game undertake a journey of roughly 1,600km through Tanzania and Kenya.

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