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Branson Spills the Beans.
By Ian Jarrett
Friday, 3rd August 2007
 
When you're the chief Virgin in a world of possibilities; a week is a long time and it's been a big week for Richard Branson -

First, he told a UK lads' magazine that – chortle, chortle – he joined the Mile High Club as a 19-year-old, his lasting memory of which was how he tried to remove four handprints from the toilet mirror after it was all over.

Oh yes, and how the lady in question asked him to walk a long way behind her at the arrivals halls because her husband was there to meet her.

Whether Sir Richard's experience also included Losing His Virginity on the Laker Airways flight was not mentioned.

And then there was the admission from the 57-year-old Virgin Group chief that he smoked cannabis with his son Sam while visiting Byron Bay in Australia.

Branson's big win this week, though, was against his old enemy British Airways, which was fined a record £270m after admitting it had engaged in anti-competitive behaviour by fixing with its competitors the price of fuel surcharges for long-haul flights and cargo.

It was Virgin Atlantic who blew the whistle on BA to the UK's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) despite being in bed with BA on fixing the rate of the fuel surcharge.

As the first applicant under the terms of the OFT's leniency policy, Virgin qualified for conditional immunity and as a result has not been required to pay any penalty.

BA boss Willie Walsh has tried to put a brave face on the huge fine but privately he must be seething that Virgin got off scot-free after dobbing in its rival to the authorities.

But then good fortune has never been a stranger to Sir Richard, who attended a big public school, Stowe, in England, where – as he reveals in his autobiography - he spent time in the library (because he couldn't play sports) dreaming of being "gloriously and expertly seduced by the young Scandinavian school matron".

He also reveals an encounter with the opposite sex when Rudi, a Dutch girl, pitched her tent in the woods of the Stowe school grounds.

"For one glorious week I crept out every night and walked past the lake to the woods where Rudi would be smoking pot and cooking over a tin stove…."

But back from the woods to his latest skirmish with British Airways, which Branson successfully sued in the 1990s after BA admitted in the high court that staff had engaged in "disreputable business practices" including shredding documents, passenger poaching and trying to plant "hostile and discreditable" stories about Virgin in the press.

BA apologised unreservedly and settled the case by paying Sir Richard £500,000, which was divided among his staff and became known as the "BA bonus".

The Wrap has some concerns with this method of convicting the guilty but sparing one of the conspirators for spilling the beans.

Presumably, as the authorities claim, British Airways benefited from the price-fixing, surely Virgin enjoyed the same benefits.

After all, what's good for the goose…

IAN JARRETT is based in Fremantle, Western Australia from where he travels frequently in Asia on assignments for travel magazines. He is a member of the BamBoo Alliance, a group of leading travel writers in the region and more articles can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com . He can be contacted at ianjarrett@mac.com
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