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(Illustration by Michael Daley)


Richard Branson’s and Donald Trump’s Caribbean hideaways — Necker Island and Château des Palmier on St Martin — were both wrecked by Hurricane Irma last month. That’s not the only thing  the two ageing billionaires share. They may espouse very different causes — continued British membership of the EU and liberalising drug laws in Branson’s case; economic nationalism, climate scepticism and immigration control in Trump's — but they both have ridiculous hair masquerading as an ill-fitting yellow wig and have a habit of plastering their brand all over businesses in some of which they have only minor involvement. Virgin Music and Virgin Mobile, for example, are businesses of which Branson has no ownership and that are merely paying to use the brand; Virgin Atlantic, despite being endlessly marketed on the back of Branson’s appeal, is only 20 per cent owned by his businesses. And both men’s opaque business practices and shunning of public listings have led to the true extent of their wealth — Branson’s is estimated at nearly £5 billion by the Sunday Times Rich List — being widely questioned.

They also have the habit of letting paying guests stay in their so-called homes and allowing some of their brand’s magic to rub off on those who can afford it. Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, weekend retreat, the “Winter White House”, is a members’ hotel. Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) — habitually described as Branson’s private island home, as if he were a James Bond villain — is in fact a resort. Before Hurricane Irma, anyone with a spare £3,300 or so could book to stay overnight on an all-inclusive basis in the island’s Great House or celebrate the place’s sheer naffness by staying in a “Love Temple”.

Branson himself holed up in his — or rather, his hotel’s — private wine cellar during the hurricane. In a fine example of hyperbole, he climbed out to demand that the international community fund “a new Marshall Plan” to help those parts of the Caribbean devastated by Irma, and in particular the BVI, to recover. He seems unaware that when the original Marshall Plan was launched Europe had just come out of a war that had killed tens of millions; however tragic the events of last month, Irma had merely killed tens. In 1945 Western Europe had a population of more than 140 million; the BVI have a population of 28,000. Before the storm, this British Overseas Territory had a per capita GDP slightly higher than that of the UK itself. Perhaps what the islands need is not a Marshall Plan but a Branson Plan. With his business interests and experience in travel Branson would be ideally placed to rebuild the BVI’s tourism industry; the other mainstay of the economy, offshore banking, can surely look after itself. 

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