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The day Richard Branson looked at me and I ran away… twice

Richard Branson at the Virgin Money launch at Senate House, London

It sounds like a bad joke. The kind where you meet a person you admire – a hero of some description – but then something goes wrong. Your words, ones people usually tell you to stop using, fail you; you stutter and they look at you like you’re some special needs kids, only to then wake up in cold sweat worried that, because of a dream, your hero now hates you and regards you as a bumbling nitwit.

Well, my dream is a reality.

The stage

I was invited to attend the relaunch of Virgin Money at an event at Senate House in London. We weren’t told much of what to expect, except that the big boss plans to show.

Being in London with my mum I spent the day bouncing around – I was going to get up-close with one of my heroes and a man who, along with my Dad, has inspired me to learn more about business.

Walking into Senate House Library, part of the University of London, I was daunted at the size of the place. Not only were there students trying to walk around but there was a media circus through in the other room; with bright lights and a camera I assumed we must be allowed to get our photos taken as part of the campaign.

But then I heard his voice.

Richard Branson launching Virgin Money at Senate House in London

In the flesh

In the centre of the bright lights and adoration was the man himself.

Sir Richard Branson. Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.

As he finished his speech about Virgin Money and about changing the way banking worked, something miraculous happened considering the number of the people in the room. As he turned around to answer people’s questions he stopped, we locked eyes – him looking at me expectantly – and I opened my mouth ready to throw him my first well-rehearsed question and I fish-mouthed.

Horror struck me as we gazed at each other and I felt the hot rush of embarrassment rise inside of me. Turning on my heel I quickly escaped out of the suffocating building, back into the courtyard where the winter air cooled me down and returned my heartbeat to a normal rhythm.

Oh crap! What had I done?

Second chances

Escorted by his entourage into the courtyard where the presentation would take place – and where I was metaphorically hitting my head against a brick wall for running away – he begun interacting with the crowd as I slowly made my way over like a wary animal, getting closer, ready to return to my dark corner should anyone look at me in a I-can’t-believe-you-just-ran-away kind of way.

As I made my way closer I could hear his voice from the middle of a smattering of bright lights popping and flashing. He made a joke in the crowd and people vied for the title of being from the furthest distance away. Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool –

“Australia!” I yelled over the din.

The people near me looked at me as if I was an attention-seeking brat; I was but again I was captivated, only wanting the attention of one man.

Meeting Richard Branson at Senate House in London at the Virgin Money launch

The presentation

The Virgin Money presentation was fantastic. Using the entrance of Senate House as a blank canvas, a specially created presentation was shown taking viewers through Virgin’s full range of businesses, from Virgin Atlantic to Virgin Music, and even Virgin Galactic; but the main emphasis was on the newly launched Virgin Money banks.

My words aren’t quite accurate a description of the event so I’ll let the video speak for me.

There were cheers and applause, a second watching, and as he thanked us for coming his entourage tightened around him ready to leave the event – but he wasn’t going to leave before I talked to him.

Standing my ground

I stood in his path – and his entourage trying to sweep him away – and we locked eyes again. This time it was as if he wanted me to talk to make up for my fish-mouthing and running from him earlier in the evening.

We stood three feet away, face-to-face, and I was going to say something. The syllables were forming on my lips and my vocal cords were beginning to reverberate, uttering something smart, witty and intelligent which would have Richard asking me for my business card because he was so impressed with me that he was going to ring Virgin and tell them to work with this fabulous Australian woman who – POSES – herself with unrivalled power, wit and intellect. The words were going to come out…

Mr Branson!”

My voice squeaked. I sounded like an out-of-tune violin and he was still looking at me with those big blue eyes.

Minutes, days passed – well, milliseconds perhaps – and I was still standing there shell-shocked. All journalistic integrity gone, my brain function limited to just the lowering of my jaw for the second time that evening. I had the attention of one of the most powerful man in the world focused on me and I was standing there, headlight-stunned. So I did the next most logical thing that any sane person would have done in the same situation.

I stared at him in the eyes and shut my mouth, gave him a small smile and then turned on my heel and fled into the fray of journalists, media and bloggers.

Reflecting back on the night, from the safety within a coffee shop and hindsight, I realised that I had been face-to-face with one of my heroes and I had looked at him and ran away, not once, twice. Perhaps I should reconsider my career as a journalist and just focus on travel blogging…

 Now it’s over to you:

What would you do if you were about to meet your hero – get too nervous to talk or stand your ground?
What question would you most like to ask your hero?

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Nomadic Translator @latinAbroad
    September 8, 2012 at 12:01 am

    *gasps in disbelief*

    • Reply
      Nicole
      September 8, 2012 at 12:10 am

      Shh… don’t judge me Maria!

  • Reply
    Tom @ Waegook Tom
    September 8, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Hahaha awwwww! Maybe the reason you felt nervous is that deep down you knew he was trying to seduce you with those big blue eyes? Oh, Mr Branson!

    • Reply
      Nicole
      September 8, 2012 at 7:39 pm

      Haha, yes it was all because I melted under his gaze. *swoon*

  • Reply
    Ali
    September 16, 2012 at 4:02 am

    Aw 🙂 At least you got to see him in the flesh up close!

    • Reply
      Nicole
      October 22, 2012 at 1:07 pm

      True Ali! 🙂

  • Reply
    alison
    September 16, 2012 at 4:18 am

    Aww I would have felt completely intimidated meeting somebody I respected so much. Even working as a newspaper journo for five years, I would get nervous interviewing anybody who was even a lil bit famous. If they were good looking, I would go bright red. I hope you get to meet him for a third time and get to ask him the question you intended to.

    • Reply
      Nicole
      October 22, 2012 at 1:07 pm

      Thanks Alison! My fingers are crossed that Mr Branson and I cross paths again one day 🙂

  • Reply
    Lauri Kutinlahti
    October 4, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    Last Saturday I was at a seminar and meters away from my childhood hero, Finnish snowboarder Aleksi Litovaara. Whole day I was looking for a spot to shake hands with him. I was preparing an opening line and a story about how I tried to be like him. When seminar was closed I got my act together and said to myself that this is the moment.

    I approached him when a friend of mine stopped me and ask my opinion about his new business idea. The idea was so interesting that I stopped for a couple of moments and of course Aleksi left somewhere in the middle. Since then I’ve been asking myself: Why I stopped? I guess I will have another change.

    • Reply
      Nicole
      October 22, 2012 at 4:35 pm

      Oh no, Lauri!

      That is so annoying when circumstances like that crop up but hopefully you get to meet Aleski one day, and in the process your friend and you develop that fantastic business plan. 🙂

  • Reply
    Sun Nien Fai Lok/Happy New Year from Hong Kong!
    January 1, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    […] got over my fear of mountain biking and some-what conquered my fear of people, I’ve run away from Sir Richard Branson… twice!, reflected on lessons learnt from being a solo-traveller, and baby – I ran with the bulls in […]

  • Reply
    Sun Nien Fai Lok/Happy New Year from Hong Kong! - Bitten by the Travel Bug
    May 31, 2016 at 8:25 am

    […] got over my fear of mountain biking and some-what conquered my fear of people, I’ve run away from Sir Richard Branson… twice!, reflected on lessons learnt from being a solo-traveller, and baby – I ran with the bulls in […]

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