The Florida Page – July 2011

Sir Richard Branson with supermodel Karolina Kurkova. Photo by Robin Hill

SIR RICHARD BRANSON, always the orchestrator of splashy media events, didn’t disappoint when commemorating the 25th Anniversary of Virgin’s London-Miami routes. After landing June 15 at Miami Airport with an entourage of British media and celebrity guests, Branson posed along a Virgin jet wingtip. Staying for a few days of a packed schedule, he hosted various invitation-only charity and social events in Miami. In my capacity as FABB president I was invited to the top charity event at the Versace mansion but at $2,000 a ticket, alas Sir Richard missed the chance to see my party dress!

So it was off to the press conference instead, work but fun, at the ultra-glamorous waterside Mondrian Hotel on South Beach. We press corps were directed to gather along the boat dock to await developments! For pictures, I took fellow Brit Robin Hill, one of Miami’s best professional photographers. Suddenly we saw two speedboats from the Miami Cigarette Racing Team, one carrying Branson doing a stunt reenactment of a Miami Vice scene. Branson, playing Sonny Crockett, rapidly overtook his adversary in his Virgin Logo wrapped boat, accompanied by Karolina Kurkova, Victoria’s Secret supermodel. The boat docked, Branson and model disappeared and next we heard a huge splash behind us. He had jumped fully-dressed into the hotel pool grabbing the beauty as he went, she still in her silver dress and thigh boots. Throwing her playfully in the air like a beachball, he hammed it up for the press. Of course. (God knows what he’ll dream up for the Virgin Galactica Space launch!) His white linen suit was transparent showing his black underwear, so a quick change was effected before Branson reappeared at the podium with his British CEO Steve Ridgeway CBE and other officials for the serious press conference. A gaggle of major UK and Florida media was present.

Virgin currently flies to 32 destinations worldwide and Branson announced a new London-Cancun route starting next June. “This will cement our position as the UK’s leading long-haul leisure airline.” Founded in 1984, Virgin is the UK’s second largest carrier. (Consult www.virginatlantic.com for company info). At Q&A, I asked Branson, who turns 61 this month, to confirm or deny a rumour that he had bought a home in Miami and thus technically would be joining our expat Brit community. “Confirmed.” he said. “Well, my wife has bought it actually, to get away from me!” Later I got him alone (quite a feat) to show the 1993 archive copy of UJ, with my previous cover story on him. Chuffed to see the historical double feature with his late mentor and friend Sir Freddie Laker, Branson gladly reprised his pose for this month’s cover. Then a visiting ITN News crew, interviewed Robin and I about the expatriate community in Miami and my work with Florida’s British businesses.

OTHER VIRGIN TIDBITS relevant to Florida readers: Branson has other business interests in Miami and comes here often on his way down to what he calls his main office, Necker Island. Swinging in his hammock three years ago on the NBC Today Show, he told Matt Lauer most of his work was done there. From the hammock, he stressed. VIRGIN HOTEL: Branson is thinking about a Virgin brand hotel in Miami’s South Beach. VIRGIN CRUISES, now sailing. They just partnered with a leading Miami-based cruiseline to offer Virgin Cruises around the most fabulous ports of Europe, the Mediterranean and elsewhere. To book from Florida for a current Virgin cruise call 1-(877)-277-6414.

OTHER BRIT NEWSBRIEFS:

1) FOR BRIT BLOKES: Footie fans this is your chance to watch top UK teams without a flight home! Round up your Britpals for a worthwhile trip to Orlando City Soccer Club, which is British-owned. Orlando FC play Bolton Wanderers Sunday, July 17 and Newcastle United on July 23 in International friendlies. See ad this issue for tickets.

2) FOR BRIT BIRDS: Those exquisite Fascinator mini-hats were all the rage at the Royal Wedding. Now they can adorn YOUR British bontz for weddings and stylish occasions in Florida. A USA-based British company sells a superb selection and ships to any US zipcode. I spent ages clicking around and marvelling at the (reasonably-priced) selection on their website. See NY Fascinators ad this issue.

BRITISH CLUBS/PUBS/BRITSHOPS: No space this issue, so just email me for your nearest one.

The opinions in this column are Patricia Kawaja’s and not necessarily shared by Union Jack Publishing.

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The Union Jack has been published monthly since April 1982. Our readership now exceeds 220,000 throughout the USA. We serve a devoted readership comprised primarily of British expatriates, ranging from recent immigrants to war brides who relocated to the States a half-century ago, as well as a growing number of American Anglophiles. All of our readers, whether aged 25 or 75, share a common desire to maintain strong ties to Britain and the British community in America.

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