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7th February 2017

Eve Branson, 91

Eve has been a ballet dancer, a Wren, an air hostess and a writer. Since 1998, she has been running the Eve Branson Foundation, helping young women in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco to develop income-generating skills. She is also mother to Richard Branson, a long-term supporter of the foundation.

“My mother, at 90, was the oldest person to hit a hole in one. I think I’ve either inherited her ambition or her genes – I’m not sure which! I don’t have much criticism of our world; if ageism exists then I can’t do much about it. I certainly wouldn’t allow anyone to treat me differently because of my age. I love being 91. It’s all about going forwards and not looking back. If you feel love, you’ll give love. If hate comes into your mind, get rid of it.

I’m only happy when I’m being constructive – it doesn’t matter what it is that I’m doing.

I grew up in Devon and was very frustrated there. Luckily my mother understood and allowed me to escape to London at just 14 to train as a classical ballet dancer. Thank goodness I went, although it was probably a little dangerous! She found someone I could stay with, who had children the same age. Luckily, nobody ever knew what we got up to!

When the Second World War began, I disguised myself as a boy and took myself off to the RAF to train as a glider pilot but I was found out, so joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service as a Wren instead. I liked it – they had a rather saucy uniform! I was stationed on the Isle of Wight and had an amazing experience. After the war, I wanted to get out of England and see a bit of life so I became an air hostess, working on an old plane which was absolute hell in the air, with everyone being sick all the time! But on the ground it was wonderful. I met my husband around this time at a cocktail party – sure enough the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, so I offered him a sausage! He thought my career as an air hostess was too dangerous so he proposed, to make sure I didn’t have to do it anymore – just to save this old girl!

The Eve Branson Foundation came about because of my love of Morocco. I got to know the country about twenty years ago when my son Richard was going around the world in a balloon. A rush of wind from a passing plane caused the balloon to take off without him, and with unexpected time on our hands I discovered a beautiful kasbah up in the mountains. I asked Richard if he would buy it and he said he would, on one condition – that I look after all the villages around it. Of course I said yes! The villages have nothing – and when I say nothing, you wouldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘whatever I do, I can’t do any harm.’ I’ve taught the young girls how to make things, how to knit and sew, so that they can make their own money. There is a lot of expansion going on now with the foundation – I found another village that needed our help last time I was there and I want to take that on too – it’s snowballing!

I’m only happy when I’m being constructive – it doesn’t matter what it is that I’m doing. I love writing. I write, write, write and then the words are there forever. I’ve written a series of children’s books – Sarky Puddleboat – about a magic boat and of course I wrote my autobiography Mum’s the Word. I also write a monthly newsletter for the foundation, which keeps me busy. Luckily I have two secretaries to help out but I never get tired, I must be a spring chicken!

I spend the weekends at my house down in West Wittering and then head up to Putney and the Hurlingham Club during the week. Every day I do a few exercises. I walk a lot, swim and I am arranging for a billiards table to go in my dining room. I want to lure my grandchildren into my house – it sounds so selfish, anything to keep them here! I have 11 of them and they are wonderful.

Next on my list is to go into space. Richard rang me and asked if I minded if he called the mothership ‘Eve’ – I said no, as long as I get to go up in it!

My life motto? Just keep going!”

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