A web-search for news of the project yielded a dispiriting harvest of question marks and blanks, with the ominous phrase "Details to be announced" much in evidence, but an unofficial blog brought me up to date with the great man's activities.
Was this on-line diary a hoax or has the zany billionaire been communicating secretly yet publicly with his many fans? It was almost impossible to tell...
Friday. Have I had a busy week? Put it this way - I've only flown on the first-ever Virgin Atlantic flight to Havana, been hailed by one of the top Cuban guys as "a true revolutionary", met one of my boyhood heroes, Fidel Castro, and seen 3.47 per cent added to the FTSE share price on Virgin. Dynamic or what?!
But for me, business isn't about money - it's a people thing. Which was why I was dead chuffed to meet a true people's champion, El Comandante himself, in his high-security palace outside Havana.
Mind you, it could have gone a bit pear-shaped at the start. When I was ushered in to meet him and his cabinet (who, oddly, were all called Castro), the first thing I did was to offer the world's most famous cigar-smoker a packet of Henri Winterman half-coronas which I purchased through Virgin's on-flight duty-free facility.
Whoops! It turned out that Fidel gave up smoking years ago. He wasn't too keen on Western products either by the way he ground the cigars beneath the heel of his military boots, shouting, "Ere ees what I theenk of the running dogs of Yankee imperialism." Being a bit of a closet revolutionary myself (!), I joined in and even gave the Wintermans a bit of a kick with one of my Nike Skylon trainers.
Just to break the ice, I mentioned to Fidel that we had much in common. Each of us had reputation as a bit of leftie in our youth, him in the armed revolution against Batista and me in school debates at Stowe. We both had a title. Then, I quipped, there was the question of beards.
At this point, Fidel leant forward and tugged rather painfully at the hair on my cheek. "Ees not a beard. Ees bum-fluff!" As I laughed gamely, he told me that in Cuba, they believed that a small beard meant - and then made a rather odd gesture with his little finger.
Without explaining further, he embarked upon one of his famous speeches. Its subject - pardon my blushes! - was none other than yours truly. Unfortunately the translator was rather slow, but I picked up several phrases: "hot-air balloonist", "looks like an unattractive cross between Noel Edmonds and Robert Maxwell", and "part to be played by Brad Pitt".
Now and then, his entourage looked at me and guffawed with laughter, which I took to be a form of Cuban hospitality. After three hours, Fidel handed me a sheet of paper. "Ees what your journalists will write," he told me.
"Well, actually," I said with a diplomatic smile. "The tradition is that they sort of ... decide what to write themselves."
He raised the heavy undergrowth of his eyebrows in surprise. "In Cuba, a writer do that and he rot in jail for 24 years. You tell the squealing piglets of the press to do what they are told."
I winced. When in Rome and all that, but basically I'm a nice guy who supports all the right things. It was time to speak up for what I believed in.
"Could you just do me a favour and not throw any journalists in jail while I'm here?" I asked. "For reasons I needn't bother you with, it would just look a bit bad."
He slapped my back, rather winding me. "Spoken like a true small-beard," he said.
"And a true revolutionary," I said. I had made the best joke of the day, and it took Fidel several minutes to recover. Viva Cuba, El Comandante and Sir Richard!
Miles Kington is awayReuse content