THE VIRGIN KING REPLIES; Should This Man Run the Lottery? Tom Bower's Book on the Virgin King, Serialised Last Week in the Mail, Has Provoked a National Debate. Here, Branson Responds. Bower, for His Part, Stands by Every Word He Wrote .
Byline: RICHARD BRANSON
LAST week, the Daily Mail carried an exclusive serialisation of one of the most important books of the year - Tom Bower's critical biography of Richard Branson.
Bower is an acclaimed investigative author, whose studies of Robert Maxwell and Mohamed Al Fayed were initially brushed aside by their subjects, but came to be recognised as remarkable insights into the complex business and private lives of two very controversial men. Bower's books are based on years of research and meticulously documented interviews. His biography of Branson raises worrying questions about the tycoon's business abilities and ethics.
Those questions are more pertinent than ever in the light of the furore over the Lottery Commissioners' mishandling of the issue of who should now run Britain's biggest fundraising venture.
The Mail series has provoked widespread comment and debate over whether Branson is fit to be in
AFRIEND rang me last week and advised that 'silence is the unbearable repartee' in dealing with the serialisation of Tom Bower's book about me which appeared in the Daily Mail.
My initial response was to read the extracts, learn from any justified criticism and say nothing.
But as the serialisation went on, I felt it necessary to respond, if only to make a number of points which call into question the supposed accuracy of what has been published and to defend the reputation of others who have been unnecessarily maligned.
Where to begin? Well, let's start with his opening story. The simple errors of fact contained in his account of the first transatlantic balloon crossing are indicative of much that follows.
The story starts with the balloon capsule crashing on to land in Northern Ireland, being dragged across a field and soaring back into the air, the balloon's cables twisting and its fuel tanks being lost, the pilot Per Lind-strand battling to bring the balloon under control and the fact that both Per and I were in real danger. So far so good.
Mr Bower then goes on to accuse me of screaming: 'We're going to die ... we're going to die.' He has me losing my self-control, with tears rolling down my face. He goes on to say: 'Of course, his outburst was recorded on the video.
His face froze.
His tantrum might be witnessed by the whole world. With ferocious energy Branson ripped the cassette from the machine. Oblivious to their continuing peril, he stamped frenziedly on the plastic box, pulling out the tape to destroy the evidence.' He says that: 'Strangely when the capsule was found later that day, no video tapes could be found.' Mr Bower claimed that I had 'jettisoned them into the sea to eliminate any remaining evidence of unheroic behaviour'.
The facts, however, are somewhat different. When the balloon capsule was rescued from the sea, the tape in the camera which filmed the crash was still in the machine. It had not been stamped on or destroyed.
It was, in fact, subsequently broadcast on television in the documentary which was made about the balloon crossing. As Per said last week: 'Yes, it was terrifying. However, there were no tears, no hysterics.' Interestingly, Per and I went on to make four more voyages together.
I could go on in this vein to deal with the inaccuracies which appear throughout the serialisation, but to do so would take up more space than I have been allowed (and would also send you all to sleep). I do, however, think it is important to address a few important points.
Mr Bower seems to think that his greatest scoop is a complicated story surrounding a share sale in the Eighties. The truth of the matter is that the deal was done after Virgin went private, and it broke no rules. Detailed legal advice was taken and the non-executive directors of the company were kept properly informed.
Later in the same article, Mr Bower charge of the Lottery. …