Eyewitness: Branson fends off clamouring crowd at Raising Funds from the Rich conference

The billionaire businessman was inundated with demands for help from delegates

Richard Branson
Richard Branson

Poor Richard Branson. The billionaire businessman decided to give a day to charity to mark the launch of his new Virgin Money Giving website on Wednesday last week - and it wasn't easy for him.

He began enthusiastically: at 10am he was outside London's City Hall wearing an ill-fitting lion costume to do a 'running man' dance with 200 London Marathon runners in equally bizarre outfits. Branson changed back into his normal clothes before heading to Westminster to speak to 1,500 charity workers at a conference called Raising Funds from the Rich.

He wooed the audience by paraphrasing Spider-Man: the rich should understand, he said, that "with great wealth comes great responsibility". They warmed to him further when he said charities should play to philanthropists' egos, joking that "it works for me every time".

But then came question time. A well-spoken lady who ran a small charity in Hertfordshire asked: "Can I have access to your marketing and PR people?" The audience laughed at her cheek, and Branson brushed off the request by saying: "I have a funny feeling you would be able to use yourself to get your charity known."

The next question was from a man who didn't identify himself but asked whether he could have a minute to speak to the great man after the event. He didn't give up when Branson politely declined."You could speak to my daughter instead," he persevered.

A request for funding from an environmental charity came next. It was cleverly deflected by Branson, who said he was already funding work on climate change. But audience members were starting to get annoyed. "It's turning into Dragons' Den," one muttered.

There was a sensible question about how local community-based groups could convince businesses to invest in them rather than in more well-known national charities, to which Branson gave a sensible answer.

But then it was back to silly season. "I work for a women's rights charity," one questioner said. "Could we have some funding?" The audience was getting frustrated. One left, whispering: "It's not worth staying just because we paid for the ticket."

The final questioner, oblivious to the mounting displeasure, said:. "I run a charity in East Sussex for children with medical problems. Could I borrow £200 for a new printer? I'll pay you back over three months ...".

Branson caved in. "Obviously, I'd be delighted to help," he said wearily.

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