A billionaire businessman with a taste for derring-do, Richard Branson is the founder and CEO of the mega-corporation known as the Virgin Group. Branson's first business was music: he began selling records by mail order in 1970, opened a shop in London in 1971, and in 1972 added a music studio. Virgin Records was launched a year later and soon became force in the music business, signing hot 1970s and '80s acts like the Sex Pistols, Phil Collins and Boy George. Rather than rest on his laurels, Branson branched out into a dizzying array of businesses bearing the Virgin name: Virgin Atlantic airways, Virgin Megastores (sellers of music and books), Virgin Mobile (phone service), along with cosmetics, car sales, health clubs, and many other concerns. Jovial, aggressive, and never shy about self-promotion, Branson put himself at the forefront of the Virgin publicity machine and made himself one of the best-known businessmen in Britain and the world. Branson also has made a hobby of record-breaking travel adventures: in 1986 he made the fastest-ever crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on his boat Virgin Atlantic Challenger II and a year later became the first to cross the Atlantic in a hot air balloon in his Virgin Atlantic Flyer. In the 1990s he also joined fellow-businessman Steve Fossett in several failed attempts to circle the globe non-stop in a hot air balloon. In 2006 he made headlines by pledging to devote all personal profits from his transporation companies for 10 years to developing renewable energy technologies. Branson's autobiography, Losing My Virginity, was published in 1998. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1999.
The first artist to sign with Virgin Records was Michael Oldfield, whose album Tubular Bells was featured on the soundtrack of the movie The Exorcist and subsequently sold over 15 million copies? According to his autobiography, Branson is dyslexic? Virgin Music was sold to Thorn EMI in 1992; Branson started a fresh label, V2, in 1996.
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