The Prince and the Pauper


Ambition, Drive, Timing, Luck. These are the four ingredients for what it means to be a success in Western society. Probably everywhere in these days of Globalisation. Success usually translates into the size of the bank account, the property owned and the various toys accumulated. I have none of the above. Maybe a little luck now and then, but the other three elude me. Most of it is of my own doing. This was brought home to me recently when I happened across an article on the ever expanding and evolving empire of Sir Richard Branson.

The thing that grabbed my attention was hig age….the same as mine. We are both baby boomers and both born in England. And that is where our paths diverge. As I was raised in Canada, I had never heard of Branson until I came back to live in England. Not that he was unknown. We just didn’t travel in the same circles and I never read Fortune Magazine or The Economist. Never checked any Forbes 500 lists and was never a self-starter. I kind of staggered from one thing to another, hoping to find my niche. All my dreams involved incredible effort and that just wasn’t happening. Plus I have the attention span of a newt, one slightly above a goldfish. To be fair, Branson is dyslexic and left school at 16. I remained in high school, went to university and quit when I was failing my 2nd year for the 2nd time. That was in 1973.

By then, Branson had launched his Virgin Records on Oxford Street in London, England. I visited England that year to see my English family. I was trying to figure out what the hell to do with my life when I got back to Canada. Branson, meanwhile, had begun a youth culture magazine called ‘Student’ in 1968. He gathered over £8000 in advertising revenue and used it to distribute 50,000 free copies to get it known. I would never have thought of that. I doubt I’d have had the stamina to raise the ad money. Just not in me (lazy bugger I hear you think).

In 1972, Branson built a recording studio in Oxfordshire. His first signing was Mike Oldfield who recorded his Tubular bells there. We passed that studio last October on a narrowboat. It looked a little derelict to tell you the truth, but I didn’t really get a great look as we flew by at 4mph.

Even when he had to sell his precious music shops, Branson continued in music, eventually signing such diverse acts as The Sex Pistols and Tom Jones. Then there were Culture Club, The Rolling Stones and Genesis. On the heals of all these is Virgin Atlantic, his transatlantic airline and in the last few years Virgin Galactica. Tourism in space. The extreme of entrepreneurial enterprises. Today he has over 200 companies in more than 30 countries. Not bad for the son of a barrister and a flight attendant.

So, he’s rich….a billionaire and a pretty nice guy too I hear. And in 1999 Richard Branson was knighted for his entrepreneurial efforts. Sir Richard Branson, a Prince among men. I am a penniless, defrocked preacher, living in a 60 foot tube of steel. I collect a Canadian pension and I get pension credits from the British government. I play guitar and sing for my supper sometimes and I write. I really love what I do. Honestly. And I have 3 university degrees now. I don’t use ’em, but I have ’em.

Now, I’m not going to get into who is happiest. I know I could not have done the things he has accomplished. Not because my dad was a preacher and my mum a housewife. But because I just wouldn’t want to do what he has done. Like I said, it’s not in me. The ambition, the drive. Any timing I might have had are opportunities lost. Luck? I’ve had some. None of it in a monetary context. Usually, my luck has been centred around living how I’ve wanted to rather than how others want me to live. My boat is one example. A dream come true.

Branson went across the Atlantic in a hot air balloon and a speed boat (faster than anyone before). He kite surfed across the English Channel and has spent his life risking it during one adventure after another. Wish I had those guts. I, on the other hand, am a cautious person. I have never broken a bone in my body (touch wood). I’ve had injuries, but they are usually caused by me tripping over my own feet. I tend to be a tad clumsy. No daring do for me. But as Del Boy (Only Fools and Horses) says, “He who dares-wins.” Branson 1 Larry 0.

Can’t seem to get away from the guy. I go over to the train station near us to wait for my best friend getting home from work. At least 10 Virgin bullet trains roar through (non-stop) heading to Euston Station in London or Birmingham while I wait. They create a stiff breeze, reminding me of Branson’s presence. OK, I get it. You’re the Prince and I’m the Pauper.

An idea springs to mind. In the story of the same title, the two end up switching places. Just for a short time. I’ll bet you Prince Richard can’t play the solo to Hotel California on a guitar. I wouldn’t know. But if he can’t, maybe he’d like to? So, we reverse roles for a day (or two). I can have a scary adventure or two and Richard can empty the shitter, stoke the fire and fill the water tank. He could take The Glad Victor for a spin on the canal and try to beat the record (whatever that is) for the fastest narrowboat to get from Apsley Marina to Birmingham. I’d live in all of his mansions for a day and spend some of those billions. He could have a cheap meal at Sainsbury’s and charge it to my pension fund.

Oh the possibilities!

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