Eve Branson, Richard’s mum, was a real force of nature and certainly lived life to the full. Born in London in 1924, Eve longed for adventure and disguised herself as a boy to take glider lessons. She joined the Royal Navy as a WREN to help with the war effort and trained as a dancer, appearing in West End theatre productions.
Just after the war ended Eve left her showbiz career behind at the age of 24 and became cabin crew for an ill-fated airline, called British South American Airways. The airline flew old repurposed and very uncomfortable wartime bombers, but after two of their small fleet crashed in short succession, she hung up her wings and married Major Edward Branson after meeting at a party and falling in love.
While raising her family in the 50s, Eve was doing everything she could to support Ted, whilst he studied for his bar exams. Money was tight and to make ends meet Eve helped run a property business, worked as a probation officer and made and sold craftwork in her spare time. On top of all that, this remarkable woman still managed to find time to play tennis and golf and become a writer.
I think we’re starting to realise where Richard gets his entrepreneurial spirit and his lifelong passion for adventure
In his recent blog, Richard recalls how his mum gave him the money that started the Virgin business. “It is no exaggeration to say I owe my career to mum. One day in the late Sixties, mum saw a necklace lying on the road near Shamley Green and took it to the police station,” he said. “After three months, nobody had claimed it, so the police told her she could keep it. She came up to London, sold the necklace and gave me the money. Without that £100, I could never have started Virgin.”
Eve never stopped following Richards exploits and often accompanied him on his travels. It was on one of these trips in 1998, when Richard was in Morocco preparing to launch one of his hot air balloon record attempts, that Eve and Ted stayed at a beautiful kasbah in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. They fell utterly in love with Morocco and asked Richard to buy the Kasbah Tamadot, now a gorgeous, award-winning luxury hotel.
Some years later, on one of her regular visits, Eve asked about the local village. She was warned off visiting and told that they would throw rocks at her if she went there. But this was Eve Branson, so the next day she set off for a visit. What Eve witnessed that day inspired her to set up the Eve Branson Foundation. Dedicated to helping the women and girls of impoverished communities in the Atlas Mountains, the charity teaches women in the villages the skills necessary to equip them for economic independence and sets up sustainable enterprises, enabling them to market their hand-crafted items.
As a founding member of the Virgin family, Eve has been with us at every step of our journey and the news that she’d sadly passed away in January was felt by us all.
We quickly decided that a fitting tribute to Eve would be to name our next aircraft in her honour. After all, Richard had attributed his success and life values to his upbringing. He described his mum as being ‘fearless’”, so we changed the registration of our next Airbus A350 to G-VEVE and named it ‘Fearless Lady’.
It's always tough for anyone who has lost their mum. But rather than mourn her loss, Richard has said he “wants to celebrate her wonderful life, her tremendous spirit, the joy she brought to so many, and the love she gave us all.” G-VEVE joins Virgin Galactic’s mothership, VMS Eve, in carrying her name. Between them, they will carry her memory around the world and up into space. That’s a fitting tribute to a remarkable lady. G-VEVE starts flying in December 2021 and will be operating on our leisure routes, whisking holidaymakers to amazing destinations including Antigua, Barbados and Orlando.
Read more stories about the inspirational women of Virgin Atlantic
Mum’s the Word: The High-Flying Adventures of Eve Branson Paperback can be found on Amazon or any good book store