Richard Branson: How rich is he and how did he make his money?

Richard Branson has amassed a vast amount of wealth through his Virgin Group empire, but just how rich is he?

Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson prepares to spray champagne after flying with a crew in Virgin Galactic's passenger rocket plane VSS Unity to the edge of space at Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, U.S., July 11, 2021. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
Richard Branson may have just suffered a business defeat, but he's doing well for himself on the whole (Reuters)

Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit has filed for bankruptcy after it failed to secure enough funding to continue operating.

The satellite launch service said it was laying off 85% of its staff and would cease operations "for the foreseeable future".

This leaves around 100 people to run what's left of the business as the US-based company looks for a buyer for its assets, worth $243 million (£195 million).

It comes three months after Virgin Orbit failed to launch its first satellites into space from the UK, causing shares in the company to crash.

Read more: Virgin Orbit stock sinks on news of job cuts

The Virgin Orbit building is seen after the company paused operations last week, in Long Beach, California, U.S., March 22, 2023.   REUTERS/Mike Blake
The Virgin Orbit has halted operations indefinitely after failing to secure enough investment. (Reuters)

It isn't the first unsuccessful venture Branson has had, after nearly 60 years as an entrepreneur, and given the number of companies he's started, it's hardly surprising that some won't survive.

However on the whole, the 72-year-old business magnate from London has been wildly successful, although he really would prefer it if you didn't call him a "billionaire".

Who is Richard Branson, and how did he make his money?

Richard Branson, 28 year old mastermind behind Virgin Music company. Seen here in his Virgin Mega Store Record Shop. In this set of 21 pictures , Richard is seen relaxing on his houseboat, going to work, in his recording studio The Townhouse in West London,, and in the brand new Virgin Mega Store with some of the £3,000,000 worth of records and tapes in the background.  Picture by Bill Rowntree  Picture taken 4th July 1979
Richard Branson, aged 28, in his Virgin Mega Store Record Shop in Oxford Street. (PA)

From a young age Branson had his eyes set on making it in the world of business.

Born to a barrister and former ballet dancer in Blackheath, southeast London, he attended the prestigious Stowe School, but didn't do particularly well in class.

Branson, who has dyslexia and ADHD, has told how on his last day at school his headmaster told him he would either end up in prison or as a millionaire.

He left school at 16, and a just a few years later in 1968, he started his first business - Student magazine - and a year later his net worth was said to be £50,000.

Branson started a record mail-order business which he advertised in the magazine, and sales were so high that he ended up ditching Student and starting his own record shop - Virgin Records and Tapes.

Read more: Cineworld ends plan to sell its UK, US and Ireland businesses

Sir Richard Branson, right, founder and chairman of Virgin Atlantic Airways, carries actress Pamela Anderson off the wing of a limited edition 21st birthday plane with a newly styled
Branson carries Pamela Anderson off the wing of a limited edition plane in celebration of Virgin Atlantic's 21st birthday in 2005. (AP)

He used the money he made to found Virgin Records in 1972, signing big name acts including the Sex Pistols, the Rolling Stones, and UB40.

From there, his empire kept on growing with a raft of businesses launched under the Virgin Group umbrella, including Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Radio, the Virgin Rail Group, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Media and Virgin Money.

Read more: Branson-backed Virgin Voyages sets sail on quest for new funding

There are now more than 40 Virgin companies operating in 35 countries - although there were inevitably some failures along the way, including Virgin Cola, Virgin Vodka, Virgin Clothing, and lingerie venture Virginware, which only lasted three years.

More recently Branson has been competing with fellow billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos in a space race - founding Virgin Orbit in 2017 and Virgin Galactic in 2004.

How rich is Richard Branson?

Richard Branson prepares to go kite-boarding near his private resort and home, on Necker Island, British Virgin Islands, Sunday, June 8, 2008. Branson, a high school dropout who built his Virgin empire into a world brand, said he plans for his newest property, nearby Mosquito Island, to be transformed into what he touts as the most environmentally-friendly resort on the globe. (AP Photo/Todd VanSickle)
Branson prepares to go kite-boarding near his private resort and home, on Necker Island, British Virgin Islands. (AP)

As of the start of 2023, Branson's net worth was $3.6 billion (£2.9 billion) making him the 798th richest person in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

However in an interview with LBC, he told Tom Swarbrick: “I hate the word billionaire.

“I see myself as somebody who loves to create things... I’ve never thought of going into these businesses with the thought of making lots of money."

Read more: Richard Branson tells of Scottish roots as he opens Virgin Hotel in Edinburgh

Branson owns a number of homes in different parts of the world, but he primarily lives on Necker Island - a private 74-acre retreat in the aptly named British Virgin Islands.

He bought the island for $180,000 in the late seventies and has reportedly spent $10 million turning it into a luxury resort, where high-end travellers can pay upwards of $40,000 per night to stay.