The man who inspired Richard Branson

SIR Richard Branson has revealed that his close friendship with Scottish author Gavin Maxwell helped drive him to create his hugely successful global business.
Gavin Maxwell: Met Branson when he was a schoolboy. Picture: ContributedGavin Maxwell: Met Branson when he was a schoolboy. Picture: Contributed
Gavin Maxwell: Met Branson when he was a schoolboy. Picture: Contributed

Maxwell wrote a best-selling book that helped save a species from extinction and led to one of Britain’s best-loved films.

But Maxwell, author of Ring of Bright Water, was not only responsible for helping save the otter – he also helped save the young man who became one of Britain’s best-known billionaires.

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For Sir Richard has now revealed his close friendship with Maxwell helped him on the road to success.

Sir Richard, 63, credits the author – whose novel about an otter has sold more than two million copies – with giving him the confidence as a dyslexic public schoolboy to become successful.

Now, to mark their special friendship, Sir Richard has backed the publication of a special edition of the book, which will be launched to help raise £300,000 to preserve the Scottish island home of Maxwell, who died in 1969.

Sir Richard, who became firm friends with Maxwell paid tribute to him, saying: “Gavin has been a big influence on my passion for conservation and exploration. He was highly supportive and one of the people who gave me the confidence to begin a life of adventure.”

The book, launched next month by the Eilean Ban Trust, will also mark the centenary of Maxwell’s birth.

Sir Richard has signed each of the limited edition 200 leather-bound copies, which will include previously unpublished drawings and paintings by Maxwell, as well as revealing photographs.

The connection between the schoolboy who would go on to become the Virgin tycoon and the author is through Stowe public school in Buckinghamshire – which both attended.

The school ran a Gavin Maxwell Creative Writing Prize, which Branson won. He said: “After winning, my English began to improve and I soared up the class to third out of 21.’

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Last night, Sir Richard added: “When I won the Gavin Maxwell Creative Writing Prize as a student, I didn’t expect to become friends with the wonderful man the award was named after.

“I’m sure his life and work will live on through Ring of Bright Water, which was a true classic of its kind.”

A spokesman for the Eilean Ban Trust said they were “honoured and delighted” by Sir Richard’s support for their fund-raiser.

Trustee Jonathan Supper said: “There are similarities between Sir Richard and Gavin – except one: Gavin was hopeless with money.

“Gavin would have been seen as an inspiration by Sir Richard. He was single minded and didn’t fit the mould – like Sir Richard.’

The book, which will cost £1,500 a copy, includes 21 previously unpublished images including a self-portrait oil painting and a painting of poet Kathleen Raine, who gave him the title Ring of Bright Water, from one of her poems.

The original manuscript for the book by Maxwell, who was raised in the tiny village of Elrig, near Port William, in Wigtownshire, is held by the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh.