Motorboating enthusiast Richard Branson is playing a particularly idiosyncratic game of Monopoly. He would like to mortgage his private Caribbean island. In return, you, the taxpayer, have to buy him Mayfair and Park Lane, all the greens, all the yellows, all the reds, and stick a hotel on every one of them. Also, if Richard lands on Super Tax or Income Tax he doesn’t pay them. And if he gets the Community Chest saying “pay hospital fees”, he refuses and sues the hospital. The only bright side is that he no longer operates out of any of the stations.
But perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. By way of a recap, the tycoon is seeking a reported £500m government bailout of his Virgin Atlantic airline, and has stated in a blogpost that he is willing to put Necker Island up as collateral to secure lending for his businesses.
Without wishing to ask the cursory amount of questions, is this the same island that seems to get virtually destroyed every couple of years? I do believe it is. So … nice try, hotshot. This feels like being offered the chance to underwrite Richard Hammond’s car insurance. A quick archive trawl confirms that Necker has in recent years been struck by both a devastating fire and a devastating hurricane – which, if I were religious, would probably make me think God was a guy who believed in paying UK income tax. Either way, offering up Necker is arguably the most WTF-tinged piece of collateral action since that late-1980s moment when Australian entrepreneur Alan Bond bought Van Gogh’s Irises at Sotheby’s, using a loan from Sotheby’s, for which the painting itself was collateral. Confused? Don’t worry; the short version is that it ended badly in a number of ways.
But back to the present day, and Britain’s Best-Loved Businessman™. You will note that there has been some debate as to whether this is quite the moment for a man who once sued the NHS, and who has not paid income tax in this country for 14 years, to request a taxpayer bailout. The way Richard sees it, judging by his lengthily defensive blogpost on Monday, is that he’s lifted so many people up. And he has. Mainly women – and bodily. The sheer volume of archive photos of a guffawing Branson carrying some stilettoed lovely, usually in water, makes it a genre all of its own. If he ends up being unable to fly passengers, I almost feel he could personally heft every single one of Earth’s promotions girls across the oceans, like an alarmingly veneered St Christopher.