In 2005, in one of his most tabloid-friendly promotional stunts, Branson carried Pamela Anderson on the wing of a Virgin jumbo at New York’s JFK airport. He has also pulled similar stunts with British supermodel Kate Moss at Heathrow in 2009 and burlesque star Dita Von Teese across a Virgin jumbo in Las Vegas in 2010.
“There’s no question that in the early days of Virgin, society was very different. I doubt you’ll see me turning girls upside down or picking up ladies today, whereas 38 years ago, if I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t get in a newspaper,” Branson said.
He added: “You just adapt with the times. And I might soon be getting to an age where I might pull a disc.”
Branson also said that he was still in good physical shape, having recently climbed Mount Kenya, saying: “I can still turn girls upside down. But times have moved on.”
Branson said he still regarded the airline as a “daughter”, adding: “She’s growing into a wonderful, diverse, happy company. People can be as they feel comfortable, dress as they feel comfortable, and they can deliver with our customers much better.”
Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive Shai Weiss said: “The world has moved on and so has Richard Branson. Would I turn people upside down? That’s not my style.
“But we all know the world has changed. He got attention, he sold tickets, and made everyone laugh – and there are different ways of doing it today.”
The airline has also recently made a series of statement policy changes, including scrapping the requirements for female cabin crew to wear makeup, allowing crew to have visible tattoos, and in September, announcing that people could wear whichever Virgin uniforms they wished, regardless of gender.
A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said that at least two non-binary staff on its planes were now choosing to wear the burgundy trouser suit instead of the traditional red skirt and jacket.
And applications for employment have soared since the campaigns to promote its inclusive workplace.