I had the enormous pleasure of interviewing Eve Branson to learn more about her life as a resourceful go-getter, incredible mother and deeply passionate philanthropist. In this interview, you will learn more about Eve’s background, what she learned from her own mother, her multifaceted career — how she became a glider pilot (she had to disguise herself as a boy to be accepted), a Wren during the war, an air hostess, a magistrate, and a property developer — as well as her ardent views on parenthood, education and the gift of giving to others. Here’s her story:
Newnham: You have raised three extraordinary children. What was your own childhood like? Can you tell me more about your upbringing?
Branson: I was brought up in the depths of Devon, my father happy, my mother frustrated as she missed the big world beyond!
My mother, who married a fruit farmer in Devon, always felt frustrated and held back and that is what made me even more determined in everything I did.
Newnham: You showed a talent and interest in dancing, and you also worked as a pilot — can you tell me about that time?
Branson: In those days women were considered incapable of flying, hence my disguise. I didn’t fool anyone for long though sadly!
It was an exciting time and I loved seeing women taking on important roles. I was a signalling wren and fell in love with Great Yarmouth and the sea during my time. We were in the company of all three services — it was an exciting time. And the war changed everything for us, we were an intrinsic part of the war effort and the equality felt liberating.
Newnham: You met the love of your life and welcomed three incredible children Richard, Lindy and Vanessa. What were they like as youngsters and how did you find the early years of combining motherhood with having your own business?
Branson: My three children were blessed with good health and an abundance of energy! As with anyone who combines work and motherhood, it is always challenging but without much money, work was essential!
The children learnt that struggling with work does not mean your role as a mother is neglected, that you can balance things and they ultimately benefit from seeing this example.
Ted always took the kids’ side, so I was always somewhat fearful of being the unpopular tough parent! I think the kids respected my unpopular stance?!
Newnham: There are a myriad of parenting books available to mothers today but what advice do you have for new mothers? What do you wish you had known?
Branson: Forget the books!! Use your instinct as that will surely be better, and don’t be tempted with spoiling them with possessions, only with love and encouragement. You must listen to your children and never let them go to bed without hugs.
Richard always had boundless energy, a passion for ideas and whilst it was hard work at times teaching the basics for life, we allowed him the freedom to be himself, and he knew we were always there in the background if needed.
Once we realised he was destined for other things, we tried to help him keep his focus without pulling the reigns too tight!
Finally, you have to have faith in your children.
Newnham: When Richard didn’t perform well at school, how much worry did that cause you and how do you think the current education system could do to better support children who are more creatively inclined vs academic?
Branson: At the time, we were desperate with worry, but he excelled at sport and with that ability and his great charm, we knew he would be fine.
I believe any education system should nurture and support its young people and should give them the space and encouragement to pursue whatever they excel in. I would give children more responsibility and initiatives to manage themselves and always encourage them to put others first.
Newnham: I read that you didn’t allow TV at home which seems to be a common factor among households of high achievers. What was your reason behind the decision and how did you foster creativity at home?
Branson: I felt that TV was a distraction that drowned any hope of cultivating the children’s creativity.
Newnham: Some might find it hard to believe that Richard was shy as a child but you encouraged all your children to overcome any shyness by getting them to put on shows for guests…
Branson: Yes! Stamp it out if there is any sign of shyness in your child! Point out to them that it means they are thinking of themselves and need to think about others instead. We used to give our children pocket money that they had to share with the children next door!
Newnham: I read the tale in Richard’s book of when he was dropped off a mile from your parents’ home as a young boy and made his own way back, and remember thinking what a brave lesson to be taught about using one’s own initiative. However, your book reveals the anguish and worry you went through waiting for him. How do you feel about the incident now?
Branson: To do the same today in London, or most other places, would be irresponsible. Sad but true.
Newnham: How did you encourage all your children to be resilient and self-reliant?
Branson: Don’t over indulge or over stimulate — boredom is a great way to develop methods of self-reliance!
Newnham: You have done a huge amount with The Eve Branson Foundation* and you last year received an Achievement Award from UN Women for Peace Association — how important is it for you to continue this work and what drives you to do it?
Branson: I am only too happy to continue my work, it has been the most rewarding I have known and to receive an award or recognition for it is humbling. I hope that I can raise awareness of the region and the Berber people and bring about positive change to the communities.
Newnham: What’s the most important lesson you pass on to your children and grandchildren?
Branson: You must always consider the needs of others and help in any way you can.
Newnham: Equally — what has Richard, and his many escapades, taught you?
Branson: Don’t curb your children, stand behind them no matter what and allow them to flourish.
I could but have faith in Richard and his adventures; once I mastered that, I found I could relax and enjoy the proceedings! With the prospect of space tourism on the horizon, Richard still likes to throw me a challenge!
Newnham: What does success look like to you?
Branson: For me, success can only come if you have hurt no one along the way.
Newnham: What are you most proud of and why?
Branson: The health and success of my three children.
Newnham: What do you wish your legacy to be?
Branson: My family is my legacy.
Newnham: Finally, Richard has achieved great success and wealth, but if you could grant him one wish, what would it be?
Branson: That he may continue to live as he does, in health and happiness, always true to himself, which is worth more than the crown jewels (well, so says his mother!!).
* “The Eve Branson Foundation is a small charity based in Morocco, spearheaded by Richard Branson’s mum, Eve Branson. Our mission is to provide young people with valuable skills-training through our dedicated craft centres and to preserve traditional Berber crafts, enriching the lives of local families from Atlas Mountain communities. Since 2005, our collaborative programmes have made a positive impact in the region and we continue to work in close partnership with award-winning hotel Kasbah Tamadot.”
All images courtesy of virgin.com