Entrepreneur and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson was last night honoured with the Education Africa Lifetime Achievement award at a gala dinner hosted by HSBC chief executive Mike Geoghegan.
Making the presentation to Eve Branson (Sir RIchard was in India on business), Sir Bob Geldof gave a hilarious speech recalling a meeting with Branson in 1975 in a Dublin pub. Over a game of pool, the young "hippy" (that’s Branson) slipped a cheque fo £1m into Geldof’s top pocket, hoping to clinch the deal to sign the precocious Irish pop star.
The deal wasn’t quite as generous as it first appeared. As the LiveAid founder explained, Branson was already a hard negotiator. For the £1m, he expected Geldof to deliver an album a year for ten years, sign over all rights to his music, and for the band (the Boomtown Rats) to pay for all their touring expenses. "A typical Branson deal!", laughed Saint Bob.
Geldof also revealed that, after LiveAid, Branson had hired a fleet of airlines to deliver grain to Africa – a remarkable gesture for which he had sought no publicity.
Accepting the award, Branson’s mother Eve spoke of Virgin Unite (the charitable arm of the Virgin Group) that has helped draw attention to Africa’s medical crises; and to Virgin’s projects to encourage entrepreneurship among young South Africans. As Sir RIchard himself said in a message for the evening: "I believe that increasing entrepreneurship in this country [South Africa] is the golden highway to economic freedom."
Perhaps the highlight of the evening was a live performance by the Masibambane College Marimba Band, a group of children whose education has been supported by the Education Africa charity. The kids had never left their own community before, let alone travelled abroad. It would be an understatement to say that they brought the house down.