You can only lose your virginity once. But in every aspect of my life—building businesses, raising my family, embarking upon adventures—I try to do things for the first time every day.
When I first published Losing My Virginity, in 1998, I wasn't at all prepared for the reaction. I expected the business community, some newspaper reviewers and a few autobiography readers to pick it up, but before I knew it the book had taken off. Losing My Virginity is still the most common object handed to me (except a mobile for a selfie), usually by a person with a pen and a smile. I have written short updates to my autobiography over the years, but so much has happened in the past two decades that I realized I needed to write a sequel.
I was pondering the right time to do this when I came across my old notes for Student magazine's launch in the archive. I rubbed the dust away to double-check the date—the notes really were from 1967. What better way to mark fifty years since I started out in business than by sharing everything that has happened and all I have learned over the decades? This book highlights incidents from my early days, but it concentrates on the past twenty years, the time I have been Finding My Virginity all over again.
Finding My Virginity kicks on from where Losing My Virginity left off, at the dawn of the new millennium. By 1999 people thought we had done everything and there was nowhere else left for us to expand, no new challenges for me to embark upon. But being involved in running a company like Virgin is never a question of sitting back, it's about constant reinvention as the world changes, and as do I. This is the story of the last two decades, told through one of the most dynamic brands in the world. My home has moved from a houseboat to a paradise island, while my company has grown from a UK business to a global brand. My dream of flying private citizens to space has gone from a childhood fantasy to the brink of reality, and my focus has shifted from battling bigger rivals to changing business for good. In this time I've experienced joy, heartbreak, hurricanes, business (and other) highs, grief, records, doubt and my toughest ever crisis. It's been a rollercoaster ride and I have no intention of getting off any time soon.
Fifteen years after Losing My Virginity's publication, Zach Galifinakis asked me: "Is your book a play on the name of your company, or the first time you had sex?" "Both," I answered. This time around, I considered giving my book an even more risqué title. That it was factually accurate only made it more tempting. My alternative name for the book you are reading? Losing My Virginity: The Second Entry. I also considered Virginity Lost a nod to the title of John Milton's epic Paradise Lost, but it felt too negative. I view life as one big adventure; I'm always learning, and finding new things to try and challenges to overcome. I'm still Finding My Virginity every day. But now that I am a grand-dude to four wonderful grandchildren—Etta, Artie, Eva-Deia and Bluey—I look at my life in a new way.
Whether you are running a company or simply living your life, hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and put a smile on your face along the way. A reviewer described Losing My Virginity as the first autobiography in which the author had written an exposé of himself. I hope Finding My Virginity will be similar. If your life is one long success story it won't make for a good read. What's more, you're most likely a liar. We all have ups and downs, trials and tribulations, failures and triumphs: we just hope to come out stronger on the other side.
The late Steve Jobs, the entrepreneur I most admire, said: "My favorite things in life don't cost any money. It's really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time." That thought has been on my mind as I write this book, thinking back to all the good times and tough times behind me, and looking forward with wonder at what lies ahead. I've always lived every day as if it's my last, fiercely loving my family and friends and trying to make a positive difference. We only get one life, and this is mine.
I hope you enjoy finding out how I did it for the first time—all over again.
Necker Island, New Year's Eve, 1998. I was in my bedroom, trying to make an urgent to-do list. As I stared at the blank piece of paper in front of me, across a sandy path, a song Prince released in 1982 was booming around the Great House on repeat. It was a song that let everyone know 1998 was nearly over and the ball was about to drop on the last year of the millennium: 1999.
The New Year's festivities were in full swing. My daughter, Holly, was leading the celebrations with our family and friends. I could hear the clink of glasses as my wife, Joan, toasted with friends while our fourteen-year-old son, Sam, ran around getting under her feet. They were the familiar sounds of family life and ones that I was grateful to hear after my adventures of the previous weeks.