Now that I’ve now reached the great age of 90 (wow!), I thought it would be a good time to look back on all the amazing travel adventures I have been lucky enough to experience…
OFF TO A FLYING START
The urge to travel started soon after the Second World War when rationing was a very unwelcome part of life in Britain. At 21 years old, I was desperate to see the world, and I managed to land a job as an air hostess with British South American Airways.
Danger lay in every flight, but to me the glamour and fun far outweighed the risks as I headed from Heathrow to Santiago in Chile, a journey that – amazingly by today’s standards – took more than a week to complete.
Giving something back: Eve with some of the girls in Morocco who have benefited from her foundation
Throwing away the ration book: At the age of 21, Eve became an air hostess and travelled to Santiago in Chile
Best foot forward: Eve, pictured right with her son Richard, tried to master the tango on a trip to Spain
The Avro Yorks and Lancastrians were the only choices of aircraft for the route and they were ill-equipped for passengers. However, all was soon forgotten when we landed first at Lisbon, followed by Dakar, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and finally Santiago, where we could throw away our ration books and fill our tummies.
Helping local communities: Eve’s charitable foundation teaches young girls living in villages in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains to make crafts and objets d’art, which it then sells on their behalf
My partner Ted thought the only way to stop me flying was by proposing to me. At the time he was training to become a barrister, so it was up to me to earn the bread – but what could I do? My only real training had been in ballet and dance, so when a friend offered me the chance to learn the art of tango in Granada in Spain, it was time to enjoy another fantastic adventure – a week of passion, elegance and sensuality. Deliciously wicked.
With the Alhambra Palace perched high on a hill nearby, I set about trying to master the dance. I found the tango as complicated as its roots yet as simple as the desire for two human beings to move as one.
There was also time for a light-hearted salsa lesson, twirling and swirling to the pulsating beat. But afterwards I was glad to revert to the tango, to glide gracefully across the floor until a well deserved sleep came my way.
Adventurous streak: Richard Branson kisses his mother before embarking on his balloon flight in 1998
PADDLING INTO PERIL
Later in life, things were becoming monotonous so when my son Richard suggested a canoe trip down the Zambezi river, Ted and I were thrilled. Little did we realise the danger it entailed. Setting off in a not very substantial fibreglass canoe, we soon had to stop paddling – there were two cape buffaloes nearby, one on either bank of the river.
The nearest one to us suddenly decided to make a charge. With its mouth wide open, horns shaking and tail flailing furiously, it thundered towards us. Our guide bashed the side of the boat with his paddle and shouted a few unprintable words before the bull took fright. I believe this type of dangerous safari is no longer allowed.
As our guide later reminded us: ‘Where there is something to eat, there is something to eat it – don’t put yourself on the menu!’ The other big dangers on the Zambesi were hippos and crocodiles.
Pole position: Sir Richard Branson takes his parents Eve and Ted on a rafting expedition in Jamaica
A trip down the Zambezi can be fraught with danger – including the possibility of being charged by buffaloes
A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN
What better way to spend an afternoon than watching handsome young men dashing about on horseback playing polo? Sometimes players will travel half way around the world just to take part in a match. The players are so keen that during a seven-minute chukka, they may have to change ponies and even jump from one to another.
This sport, sometimes described as rugby on horseback or the sport of kings, is played mainly in the South East of England, but I have become aware of a similar, but not quite so expensive, alternative – bicycle polo.
It looks just as exciting and almost as dangerous, so why not have it in every park for people to enjoy?
Family ties: Sir Richard sweeps his mother off her feet at a charity event and, right, mother and son help to promote the Wimbledon tennis tournament near the London Eye with tennis star Laura Robson
Out of this world: Eve supports her son as he unveils a model of his Virgin Galactic spaceship in America
While I was waiting for Richard to embark on his circumnavigation of the world in a balloon, I had time to explore the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where illiteracy rates in some Berber villages can be up to 98 per cent, while many survive without gas, electricity or running water.
I decided it was time in my life to give back some of what I’d gained, and consequently I formed a charitable foundation with the aim of teaching the young girls of these villages to make crafts and objets d’art, which we could then sell on their behalf. These girls often leave school at 13 with no future prospects aside from perhaps looking after their father’s cow.
The Eve Branson Foundation has now been very successful and we teach upwards of 40 girls every day, in three villages. They are all anxious to learn.
HAVING A BALL – AND PROVING RICHARD WRONG
The foundation naturally needs funds, so every year we hold a variety of fundraising events. One kind friend in Los Angeles used to stage a ball, but when that ended I had to come up with another idea. I suggested to Richard that we hold a polo weekend. ‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘That won’t make any money.’
Well, it’s always nice to prove your son wrong. That first year we made £30,000 and this year it was so successful that we made £110,000. So I am hoping the Eve Branson Foundation will be in a financial position to keep afloat for a few years to come. Our next polo weekend is in Morocco next April – I hope to see you there.