Virgin magnate Richard Branson tells Gabrielle Fagan how he keeps healthy and why he still feels like a 25-year-old at heart

WORLD-FAMOUS entrepreneur, businessman and activist Sir Richard Branson started his own magazine aged 16, and went on to found his Virgin Group – which counts records, an airline, hotels, trains, finance and a mobile network in its portfolio of successes.

But he's just as famous for his hair-raising adventures as he is for his wealth, having completed several world record attempts on water and in the air in a hot air balloon. Next year, he hopes to achieve his ultimate aim – to become an astronaut and going into space.

Now the 68-year-old has candidly detailed his triumphs and failures over the past 20 years in his second autobiography, Finding My Virginity, a follow-up to his first book, Losing My Virginity.

"Fortunately, I was brought up by wonderful parents who taught me the importance of always looking for the best in other people, always praising other people, never criticising other people, and never gossiping about other people," he says. "I think that's important for wellbeing, because if you're the kind of person that gets cross or jumps down people's throats, it's going to affect you as much it affects the people you're angry with. I like to think of myself as a fairly calm person who absolutely loves others, and loves learning from them. Taking that approach in life helps you sleep well at night."

Every day he spends at least an hour walking, playing tennis, cycling, kite surfing when he's on Necker Island (his private island in the Caribbean); in winter, he skis. "I'm up at 5.30am for my workout to ensure that by breakfast, the endorphins are well awake, and I'm ready to achieve anything," he says.

Children, Holly, 35, and Sam, 33, hold the Virgin Strive Challenge every year, which raises funds for charities. Branson takes part although – or perhaps because – it's pretty extreme. "This September we'll hike across Sicily, row to Sardinia and hike across it, row on to Corsica and hike across that, then canoe to Italy. After a 2,000km bike ride, we'll then climb Mont Blanc. I have to ensure I'm fit enough to take part – last year I was roaring up hills on bikes and overtaking 20-year-olds!"

He doesn't feel his age. "Luckily I still feel fit and like a 25-year-old. If you look after your body, you can avoid the ageing process to an extent," he says. "Obviously there'll come a time when injuries start happening and you have to accept that nature wins in the end. I expect when I enter my 70s, I might slow down a bit, but until then, I'll continue to throw myself into everything. My life's about challenges, whether it's trying to balloon around the world or be the fastest boat across the Atlantic, or whichever new one's ahead of me. I like to pretend I'm still a teenager."

His next adventure, all being well, will be in space. "I think our spaceship will be in space this year, and my guess is I'll go up early next year. I'm in training and hope to be a well-trained astronaut by the time I go," he says. "I'm sure Virgin Galactic will take tourists into space, but more importantly, we'll be able to expand our understanding of the universe."

There's no doubt Branson is pretty fearless. In the new book he details the 76 near-death experiences and close shaves he's had in his life. "In 2016 my life truly flashed before my eyes as I went over the handlebars of my bike while cycling on one of the British Virgin Islands," he says. "My bike disappeared over a cliff and I was lucky to escape with a cracked cheek, torn ligaments and cuts and bruises. It did make me think about my end a little more and about my 'legacy' – a word I've never really liked.

"I've realised that when I'm on my death bed, I just want to feel as if I have loved and been loved. I want to be remembered for changing business for the good, making Virgin a fun place to work, for pushing the boundaries of what people think is possible and leaving the world in a little better shape than we found it, for future generations."

Branson worries a little that he has slightly more forgetfulness than when he was younger, especially short-term memory loss. "It could be I have a very full brain with lots going on, and it could be that it's my age. Fortunately, my habit is to always make lists and notes of everything, so that I don't overlook anything," he says.

"Overall, though, I don't honestly think about those sort of things too much. My approach has always been not to waste a minute of life, throw yourself wholeheartedly into it and to continue to live it to the full, until the body can no longer do so."

* Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography by Richard Branson (Virgin Books,, £9.99)