Four out of ten South African celebrities (musicians, actors and soccer players), when asked what is their favourite book of all times are quick to shout, 'Losing My Virginity' by Richard Branson if not Chika Onyeni's Capitalist Nigger. Knowing the mental conditioning and social background of most local celebrities one is left wondering if they are referring to the same 572 page biography that needs more time to read than a single celebrity spends party-hopping on 52 Saturdays. No disrespect, but the truth is that many celebs just read the book review in some glossy mag (especially Sawubona) and concluded that they can be experts on Branson's business finesse. One other thing that leaves bookworms like me startled is that they swear to god to have read Losing My Virginity but they way they are so extravagant with money goes against the spirit of the book. The book is not saying be stingy but rather 'invest'.
Question is, is having read the book part of a neo-hype (new hype) or is it a validation that one has the ability to focus on a bigger goal, which is to read a thick book about a dyslexic Brit and never get bored? Interesting, some few years ago it was fashionable to say, 'Im currently reading Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom'. I'm telling you everyone on television or whose profile was published in a mag or newspaper was busy reading it, at the time when it was priced at five barrels of Brent Crude.
I guess I was one of a few people who would openly admit to not having read it or planning to because I had read so much reviews, previews, excerpts and commentary (and seen documentaries and films) to give me a picture of what the book is about. The only area I read was the Index to check what is it that Tata was saying about some people I knew who crossed his paths in the greenhills of the Transkei. To tell you the honest truth I went there and checked under 'G' to see what is it that he's saying about me, and on which page. I never read the book and I don't plan to, the same way I'm not going to read Capitalist Nigger. But I did read Losing my Virginity and I will tell you why.
See, right now you are reading this review on this blog which is a result of something I came across in the book. In the book Branson is frank about how he created his wealth, the hiccups, the stress, the divorce, the support, lack of it, the debts, the legal wrangles, the dirty competition, the successes, the failures the trips to there, the things he did there and the Virgin T-shirt he did not buy (but rather opted for an island named Necker) but made after that. That's suave Branson, with his amper-goatee and a smile that says, 'I made it, you can too'. The Branson who is a philanthropist without fail. I should confess one of the reasons I read the biography was because I was impressed with his giving spirit and his concern about poor people everywhere in the world. I read it because I wanted to find out why is he so different from our own Black Economic Empowered billionaires who find giving without expecting political capital in return so painful. I wanted to understand why are our bureaucrats plundering our economy at a time when the gap between the rich and poor is widening faster than a crack from an earthquake in Kobe (Japan).
Our neo-liberal capitalists, who when they want to donate computers, wheelchairs, books, vehicles, clothes, bursaries or whatever they have in abundance will not do it in the absense of some vocal chap from the African National Congress Youth League, government, Mandela or the media. The types who will postpone a hand-over if the media has not yet arrived at their glittering dos. The types who will donate equipment worth R35000 at a ceremony costing R80000. The types who when they deliver speeches at these functions will always try to score political points for a party without even trying to conceal their real motives.
Why was Branson so different? Why wasn't he so Labour or Conservative? Why did it seem that he came from a country without political parties as he tended to give across the political divide unlike our local businessmen who only donate material closer to elections to pacify communities for politicians to campaign for votes? That was the only reason I interrogated Losing my Virginity. If Branson was some heartless capitalist who condoned the oppression of people anywhere and always took the government's position on issues like the Middle East, Africa, I would have put his book in a rural toilet so as to end up as toilet paper for poor children who learn under trees. I don't know about half the celebrities who claim to have read it because 572 pages later they are still stingy and exploitative.
Okay, a Zimbabwean journalist named Charles Mukonda once commented that he is always careful with books that are self-published because they don't tell the true story of the person who is writing them even if they were called biographies. This he said given that Losing my Virginity is published by Branson's own Virgin Books. When I told him that Branson started his business at age 14 without concrete capital from any major bank he said, "he's not going to tell about where he got that start-up because he can get away without telling since the editors at Virgin are not going to insisit". Point taken Mr Mukonda, but let me beg to differ because I read the book.
Overall Losing my Virginity is a well-written narrative of how a small over-rated and over-pulbicized Student Newspaper put a young enterpreneur on the way to multi-billion multi-national empire status. Branson is frank about where his winning spirit comes from, he says he was never that good in academics. From the moment his aunt challenged him to swim across a dam for a fee, while they were on an outing with his family, young Richie never looked back. He profiles his entry into the music retail business with the precision of peeling an onion while not wanting to shed any tears.
What becomes interesting is the need for any budding enterpreneur to have good lawyers and a solid Plan B. Lawyers to bail you out and a Plan B to bail you out. There was a time when Branson got involved in a scam he devised inwhich he pretended to be selling records in the mainland (Europe) which if well handled could result in lots of revenue for Virgin in the form of tax reimbursment, which largely depended on the production of slips as proof. He admits that the scam succeeded for a while, clocking in hundreds of Pounds for the company until the day it backfired dismally, threatening him with a criminal record that he's quick to admit would have meant his inability to successfully launch most of the enterprises that later constituted the Virgin Group. His lawyers came aboard and he cut a plea deal with the authorities which gave him amnesty.
From a book reviewer's point of view one could forsee that element of his past creeping in during his battles with British Airways. A battle so nasty he says BA even put together a Task Team to distabilize his small airline. You need a Plan B like the time postal workers went on strike while Branson and his team were sitting with piles of mail orders from all over the United Kingdom and beyond. The question could've been what do you do with the sperm when the semen dries up and you need to make a deposit?
One is tempted to conclude that if such a hiccup befell Branson now, he wouldn't stress buying newspapers trying to find out when is the strike ending but in his true enterpreneur spirit he'll just whip out a cheque book and start a postal service. This is a man who attempted to fly around the world in a hot air balloon and who was nearly downed in China and Libya.
The reason I started off challenging celebrities who claim to have read it is not because it is a thick book but simply that one never sees small elements of the enterpreneur spirit Branson tried so hard to preach and show in his book. You want to know how Virgin Active came into South Africa and Mandela's involvement in that decision, go read the book.
How he started a record label, bought a Manor for the business while he lived in a boat, hired so many people over lunch and dinner, expanded into Europe and Japan, established the Virgin Megastores, produced a film that went on to win a few awards, once released a recording of sheep which went on to sell well, how Tubular Bells became such a hit and the sacrifices he made to get the performer to perform once and for all, started Virgin Atlantic and the journlaist who gave him a picture of a rapturing engine which could have grounded Branson forever, always consulted with Freddie who was banckrupted by BA, started Virgin Mobile, sold and bought back shares, signed Janet Jackson, delved into the computer games business, tried to save Iraq in 1990, hatched a plan to save Iraq the second time together with Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, his frienships with the late King Hussein of Jordan, Princess Di, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Mandela, Bob Geldoff, and countless people who matter today and who mattered yesterday.
Interesting Branson takes the reader through his failed and succesful relationships, including his obsession with a woman to the point that he'd follow her to her honeymoon, showing that there are some things money can't buy, for everything else there's Virgin Money.
Losing my Virginity is not a book you read and remain yourself then claim in a magazine column that you read it while you still behave like someone who has not done so. To losely use an old tired cliche, I'll say it's the Bible of Enterpreneurship, something some lazy readers will compare to Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. You can't be a sadist after reading through this carefully calculated text, deriving pleasure out of seeing other people suffer as most of the celebrities who claim to have read it continue to live their lives.
For all budding enterpreneurs who think Umsobomvu and the National Empowerment Fund suck, this is a book to read. I'm quick to recommend it because it inspired me, and the fact that you are reading this review right now on this blog should say to you the book was worth it. I did not have a blog, a recording, a publishing company either before I read the book and that I read it made me believe that even without funders and committed banks, a dream alone is enough to drive anyone forward - as it did Sir Richard Branson when he lost his virginity. This is a book to buy, available in almost all stores worth their salt, together with 'Screw it, Let's Do It', a review for another time.