In 1988, British magnate and investor Sir Richard Branson took a call from an anonymous young caller on a BBC children’s TV show.
“Have you ever thought of going into space?” the child asked.
Mr Branson laughed.
“I’d love to go into space: in fact, I can think of nothing nicer. In fact, I think I’ll go Sunday!” was his answer. It took 33 years, but Mr Branson is closer than ever to keeping his word.
On Sunday July 11, the founder of Virgin Group, 70, is travelling to space aboard a supersonic space plane on a trip paid for by his rocket venture Virgin Galactic. founded in 2004.
The flight will be the 22nd test launch to space on the rocket ship VSS Unity, with a crew of four pilots and four specialists including Mr Branson himself.
Here’s what you need to know about the billionaire.
Who is Richard Branson?
Mr Branson describes himself as a “tie-loathing adventurer, philanthropist & troublemaker, who believes in turning ideas into reality. Otherwise known as Dr Yes at Virgin,” in his Twitter bio.
It is an accurate description of a man who seeks the thrill of adventure in his work and personal lives.
The billionaire was born Richard Charles Nicholas Branson in 1950 in Surrey, southern England.
He struggled at school owing to dyslexia, which causes difficulty in identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words.
At 16, he decided to drop out for good, but credits his learning disorder with giving him the imagination and creative thinking needed to succeed as an entrepreneur.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t dyslexic. In the real world, dyslexia can be a huge advantage. I’ve always let my imagination run wild and have thought creatively about how I could make my big dreams happen,” he wrote in a blog post on the topic in January.
How did he get rich?
Mr Branson made his first million with Virgin Records, which began as a discount music shop in London.
His career hasn’t been without its failures, and includes rocky phases with several ventures, including Virgin Cola, Virgin Cars, he calls his “learning tools”.
Between all this, he wrote bestselling books on entrepreneurship, business and his life. He has a daughter and a son from two marriages.
Branson’s biggest adventures
Once he made his millions, the race was on to start breaking records.
In 1985, Mr Branson was rescued while attempting the fastest Atlantic Ocean crossing, according to Forbes magazine. But he smashed the world record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic in his powerboat, Virgin Atlantic Challenger II, the year after.
The business mogul, whose net worth is about $5.9 billion, has also driven an amphibious car from England to France and climbed Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak. He kitesurfs frequently as a hobby.
In 1991, Mr Branson and Per Lindstrand, a Swedish aeronautical engineer, adventurer and entrepreneur, crossed the Pacific Ocean in a hot-air balloon, setting a distance record of 10,782 kilometres.
In March 2000, Mr Branson was knighted at Buckingham Palace in London for “services to entrepreneurship”.
Foray into space
Mr Branson founded Virgin Galactic in 2004.
That year, his dream space project faced a huge setback when Virgin Galactic’s first commercial SpaceShipTwo spaceliner, VSS Enterprise, crashed over California’s Mohave Desert, killing one co-pilot and seriously injuring another.
But the company bounced back and Mr Branson was placed in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World list in 2007.