Tuesday 25 October 2016

Virgin supremo brings trademark brand of zany magic to Ireland

Published 02/10/2015 | 02:30

Richard Branson lifts presenter Sinéad Kennedy alongside Magnus Ternsjo, chief executive of Virgin Media, at the RDS Photo: Steve Humphreys
Richard Branson lifts presenter Sinéad Kennedy alongside Magnus Ternsjo, chief executive of Virgin Media, at the RDS Photo: Steve Humphreys
Richard Branson arriving by juggernaut at the RDS Photo: Steve Humphreys

There's no hype quite like Branson hype and no razzmatazz quite like Virgin razzmatazz.

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There was the time he dressed up as a bride to launch his (shortlived) wedding-attire service.

Or posed as a bare-chested Zulu warrior to launch Virgin's South African route.

Not to mention the time he drove a tank down Fifth Avenue to proclaim to the world the existence of Virgin Cola.

So anything was possible as we awaited his arrival at the RDS in Dublin to announce that it was to be out with the old UPC and in with the new Virgin Media, thanks to his takeover of the telecoms operator.

Expectations were at Christmas-morning levels. And sure enough, we were given a big, shiny, red parcel on arrival. Which opened to reveal a selfie stick and a Virgin-branded kitchen apron.

Oh well.

So was he going to abseil down the clock tower at the RDS? He totally was, wasn't he?

Or wait. Maybe that would be a bit obvious for the king of publicity stunts. Think subtle. He was going to arrive, side saddle, on a dressage pony.

Guests settled themselves into the extremely comfortable and casual seating arrangements as a jaunty New Orleans-style brass band struck up with happy notes.

Then came an ear-shattering fog-horn honk and a big red truck drove in, with Branson hanging out of the cab, complete with trademark beam of very square, very white teeth.


Not bad, but just not one of his more electrifying world-class stunts.

And maybe just as well he hadn't planned on the abseil after all, because by the sounds of it, he was possibly feeling a little delicate.

Blame Bono.

The night before, they saw a Conor McPherson play at the Gaiety, which was, appropriately enough, entitled 'The Night Alive'.

It's about a middle-aged man scraping a living and renting a run-down room in his uncle's house, while steering well clear of his ex-wife and kids and with a fondness for get-rich-quick schemes.

"A great play," Branson expanded.

One might have thought the plot line was completely alien to this billionaire - but maybe in it he saw the ghost of Virgin Cola and Virgin Brides. Or that perfume range he had for a while.

There were post-play drinks afterwards.

They celebrated the stay in the execution of Richard Glossop in Oklahoma.

"We were particularly celebrating last night, a guy called Richard was about to be executed in America - we're all absolutely convinced he's innocent - and he got a 40-day reprieve," enthused Branson.

And if that wasn't enough, they also raised a glass to celebrate the fact that U2 formed 39 years ago that night.

"So we had a few drinks with Bono. He's a good friend and we've done some good things over the years," he said.

"We spent a lot of time talking about lots of different things; connectivity in the world, what's going on in Africa and we had a few fun drinks as well."

Which would all go to explain why Branson's famously wacky brand of fizziness was missing its usual zip.

There was a bit of slightly awkward 'zaniness' in the form of a quiz between Branson and Virgin Media CEO Magnus Ternsjo.

The answers were up on the autocue, though, and the whole thing went on just a fraction too long.

And then Branson ramped it up a little at the end by sweeping a startled Sinéad Kennedy from RTÉ off her feet.

"Couldn't help it," he said, muttering something about a beautiful woman.

He has form on this, though.

There was the time he similarly flipped actress Pamela Anderson upside down on a plane wing to promote Virgin Atlantic's New York service.

And the time he hoisted burlesque artiste Dita Von Teese over his shoulder to showcase 10 years of his airline flying to Las Vegas.

But stripped of the razzmatazz, what does all this mean for customers?

A mobile phone service, for one.

And apparently, lots of ongoing magic - whatever that may entail.

Irish Independent

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