Richard Branson

The record industry did not welcome someone from Cambridge applying to them for jobs, not even in their legal departments. One responded to my letter of application as, “Dear Mr Snotty”, and suggested that “most of us in the music business take a short course to ulcers and heart attacks without the privilege of a university education. Why don’t you join your dad’s firm?” For a half-blind kid from Tottenham and state school this was crap.

A friend of mine, the album cover artist Dixey Dean, had just designed the cover for Tubular Bells and took me round to Richard Branson’s houseboat in Little Venice. Richard and I met several times after that, eating take-away food while he talked about his vision for the future. He was working out of a junky little office just off the Portobello Road. There was an old mattress to sit on, amongst piles of cardboard boxes. Eventually, despite the fact that I told him I hated Tubular Bells, he asked me to run the business for him. But he was only offering £1,500 a year and I needed £1,800 in order to afford a flat I had set my heart on in London’s Bayswater, fifty metres from Marble Arch. Polydor Records made me a higher offer to be their Royalty Manager and I went for it.

Tubular Bells went on to sell eleven million copies and became the foundation stone for Richard’s fortune. I had imagined it would do well, because it was an interesting idea, but I still couldn’t bring myself to say that I liked it. White, intellectual, progressive rock of that period always made my skin crawl, almost as much as the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber did, and still does. I wanted to be involved with music that came from the soul, music that was rooted in dirt and sweat and pain and real experience.

I was only at Polydor for three months before I realised I wasn’t cut out for full time employment. To start with I was writing royalty cheques to the members of Slade and the Rubettes, who were getting more money every six months than I would earn in the next twenty five years if I didn’t do something different. I knew I had to concentrate on my own writing and performing.