b. 18 July 1950, UK. Branson’s achievements while at the liberal Stowe public school hinted at an entrepreneurial flair that later extended to a multinational empire by the mid-80s. It began in 1968 with his establishment of a student journal and advisory service. Profits were then ploughed back into Virgin Records, a mail-order record business centred in London, and then Britain’s first cut-price record store - which eventually had branches in 25 other countries. By 1973, Branson had also founded an independent label, Virgin Records, which produced a million-seller with its first album, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. If considered bold in embracing punk and new wave acts such as Sex Pistols and Culture Club, the company also remained reputable enough to attract veterans such as Scott Walker and Steve Winwood. After launching Virgin Records in the USA, Branson - ‘the nice guy nobody in the business trusts’ - hit the jackpot in 1991 with his signing of the Rolling Stones. By then, records were just one division of a business that included recording studios, book and sheet music publishing, board games, discotheques, condoms, video, cable television franchises, Virgin Atlantic Airlines and the rich man’s folly of a loss-making holiday villa in the Virgin Islands. No shrinking violet, Branson cut an urbane public figure with his clipped beard, gold-rimmed spectacles and perpetual Aran sweater as he appeared in television commercials for Virgin products and services, and lent his name to government anti-litter campaigns and charities such as 1987’s Healthcare Foundation. He became better known as a hot-air balloonist, breaking the sport’s speed record and managing a daredevil Atlantic crossing with Per Lindstrand. In 1992 Branson sold his interests in Virgin Records to Thorn-EMI in order to concentrate on his airline, although he later returned to music with the formation of V2 Records. Since then he has become a favourite of the media, who, try as they might, cannot seem to find any dirt to blemish his character.