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Richard Branson would make a great Father Christmas

December 16, 2013

Christmas might be about many things – jumbo tinfoil, the only time in the year you eat stollen, and wearing cheap coloured paper hats – but if there’s one thing above all others that Christmas is for then it’s lively debates around the festive table with your nearest and dearest. This is because Christmas is supposed to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year’, but everyone has their own unique idea of what ‘wonderful’ consists of.

For some people, it would be playing tennis on the frozen lawns of their Cotswold dower house, for others, putting the Christmas cake on their head and racing around the house against their sister. Yes I did that and ended up in the doghouse as the cake didn’t make a great landing cornering around the dining room table. Still, the dog enjoyed the icing.

Clearly, in a world with such disparate values and beliefs, what Christmas means and how we celebrate it can be sources of intense debate. However, there are a number of key issues we must resolve as far ahead of the big day as possible to ensure it goes well for all involved. In my mind there are five key debates:

1. Slade or Wizard: in the thrilling Merry Christmas Everybody, Noddy Holder intended to write the great working-class Christmas song. With its euphoric debauchery undercut with melancholy, and its Royle Family-like lyrics (Does your granny always tell ya that the old songs are the best? Then she’s up and rock’n’rollin’ with the rest), Merry Christmas Everybody does instil a nostalgic renaissance for Christmases of my youth, notably wandering round Woolworth’s whimsically wondering whether to buy my mum a tin of Quality Street or Roses.

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, meanwhile, is so great that one simply goes along with Roy Wood’s assertion, rather than pausing for a minute and saying Actually Roy, if it were Christmas every day, I’d be really fed up by March, and we’d all have scoliosis from sleeping on the floor in the spare room. There’s something in Roy’s staring eyes that disturbs me too.

Winner: Slade, IT’S CHRIIIIIIISMUSSSSS! although honourable mention for my personal favourite – Jona Lewie, Stop the Cavalry, all together now Dub a dub a dum dum, Dub a dub a dum dum, Dub a dum dum dub a dub dub….Wish I was at home for Christmas

2. Clear or Coloured Fairy Lights: working class people have multi-coloured lights, because they’re ‘great’; middle-class people have clear lights, because they’re ‘classy’ – well that’s what The Times once said, and I’ve never forgotten it.

People who were working class but have become middle class buy clear lights, and then spend the Christmas season feeling vaguely uncomfortable that their tree looks a bit sparse and Puritan. However, my wife’s catholic upbringing means she is too busy lighting the winter candles of Vatican proportions in our house to notice. (note to self: check fire alarm batteries).

Winner: multi-coloured fairy lights. At the risk of sounding treacly, there is just something a magical about bringing a big, riotous burst of colour to a random corner of your living room, or your front porch, or strung across your kitchen window. It changes the whole look of the place. You dim the big lights and suddenly it’s all red, green and blue. Apart from the pointless green ones, which get a bit lost among the greenness of a green tree.

3. Quality Street or Roses: like George Foreman v Muhammad Ali, the ultimate Christmas debate perhaps? Cadbury’s Roses or Nestlé Quality Street?

First impressions from intense personal research is that Quality Street initially seems to be mostly comprised of toffees, caramels and fudges, but the Cadbury box is equally guilty, it also contains six chocolates along this theme. Actually, this is worse, as the Roses box only contains ten types of chocolate while the Quality Street contains twelve.

Ostensibly similar – coffee crèmes, strawberry crèmes, various shenanigans with nuts and caramel – Roses were always well ahead for me, because the only thing going for Quality Street was the Green Triangle which has always seemed like some high-tech sweet, possibly left over from the set of Star Trek.

Thanks to the subsequent rise of Celebrations and Miniature Heroes, both Roses and Quality Street have had to face a radically changed chocolate landscape and adjust their content. For Roses, this has meant scrapping many of the old faithfuls – coffee crème, strawberry crème, toffee penny. Quality Street, meanwhile, has tried to reiterate what it sees as its core values: primarily cheap toffee that takes a filling out.

Winner: Roses. The mighty Caramel Keg is a classic.

4. Best guest for Christmas dinner: At 11pm on Christmas Day, when the number of empty Theakston’s Old Peculiar bottles on our kitchen table resembles a recycling tip of a small English town, we always start to discuss who you would invite for your ideal Christmas dinner guest, obviously bored by present company. Passions are aroused as names are thrown into the discussion, advocates of each lobbying noisily for their choices to be included, but whom would you invite?

I’m pretty sure George Orwell would be a great guest, but he would hate the whole celebratory atmosphere, he’d much prefer a quiet drink at the pub. Karl Pilkington would be there to annoy people with his morose, cynical anecdotes, and then perhaps become just irritating, and maybe Voltaire, because he was witty, good looking and charming – everything I’m not, so you need a balance. Maybe I should have a really serious guest? Someone along the lines of Leo Tolstoy? Perhaps not, could get a bit heavy. I must be in a trivial mood, but at times triviality makes life worthwhile.

Winner: Ernest Shackleton, he would ensure that if we ran out of food and drink he’d launch an audacious visit to the local off licence to secure supplies, whatever the distance and weather, and save us all.

5. Best person to play Father Christmas If someone was to build a passenger-carrying rocket for joy rides into space, would you go? Of course you would, especially if Richard Branson was involved, and he’s be my choice to be Father Christmas – he’s a beardy bloke so already halfway there.

I’ve had some mixed experience with Virgin Atlantic going to the USA, the last time we went the rate of progress through the boarding queue was so slow that technically I was classified as a missing person.

But let’s consider Branson himself. In the 1990s, barely a week went by when we weren’t treated to the unedifying spectacle of Branson’s mouse like little face being winched to safety from some vast expanse of ocean.  His speedboats kept running into logs of wood or his balloons were always too heavy for sustained flight. Shave off the face fungus I thought, that’d lighten things up.

Despite the often-disastrous attempts to go across the Pacific on a tea tray or up Everest on a washing machine, I do like the way he keeps on trying, his boldness and attitude of giving it-a-go and the way he’s made it in business without a pinstripe suit or a predilection for golf or freemasons.

He says he’ll get us into space with Virgin Galactic and I’m up for that although I’m not sure about the £100k ticket price and then getting a seat next to Bob Geldof. I like Bob’s attitude and outspokenness, he’d be goo to chat too I’m sure, but can you imagine what he’d be like complaining about slow in-flight cabin service?

My concern about Virgin Galactic wouldn’t be the perilous spins, loud bangs and crashes of Branson’s previous failures as I sat there, but rather the expectation that every passenger will have to conform to Branson’s relaxed style and only allowed to fly in jumpers and corduroys, with his face beaming out from the safety procedure videos. He’s got nice teeth though.

But recall Fatal Attraction, you thought Glenn Close was dead, you relaxed and then, whoa, she reared up out of the bath with that big spiky knife. That’s one thing Branson doesn’t do. No, not lie in a bath of cold water pretending to be dead, love him or loathe him, he doesn’t sit back and think That’s it, I’ve had enough.  He just keeps on with his self-belief and crashes into the next idea. He never gives up, a dose of Branson’s can-do and will-do attitude is just what we all need to take our businesses forward.

Perhaps the lasting legacy of Branson’s continued success is his focus on identifying new markets and bringing successful customer-oriented business models to them. Within this, there are a number of traits of Branson’s attitude and approach that I admire, and that we could all do well to replicate in our everyday business ‘thinking and doing’:

Do what you want to do What is your purpose, what is your vision? Identify what you want to do and with tenacity and resolution, make it happen. It’s good to be specific – wanting to be rich isn’t helpful as it’s too vague. Your ‘I want to…’ statement only needs to be one sentence, but have clarity and focus.

An entrepreneur is not unlike an artist. What you have when you start a company is a blank canvas, you have to fill it with both the ‘big picture’ and the detail in order to succeed. However, unlike a work of art, a business is never finished, it constantly evolves. Branson epitomises this ‘do what you want to do’ attitude, and gives it a go with every new venture.

Create something that stands out It is not easy to start a company and to survive and thrive. In fact, you’ve got to do something radically different to make your mark today. For me, building a business is all about doing something to be proud of, bringing talented people together and creating something that’s going to make a real difference to other people’s lives. Branson has done this for 40 years, shaking up sectors by doing something that hadn’t been done and by continually innovating.

Then, I think Branson takes three further steps that make him different:

Think big Branson thinks big. He steps outside of his comfort zone, he makes every second count and tries new things taking calculated risks. Branson believes that anything is possible, that everything is negotiable, that rules are made to be broken and that business is a fun and creative way of life.

Think bigger Branson takes his first vision, then stretches it. How can you scale and leverage to increase your total success? Branson believes in thinking bigger, in leading from the front, in action over hope, in making it happen – and in controlling his own personal destiny. He goes for it.

Think biggest Branson is all about the possibilities to keep growing, taking advantage of opportunities to ‘think biggest’. He has a solution-focused attitude, an ambitious and passionate nature, a competitive, enthusiastic, resilient, bold, rebellious and ruthless approach to life. He believes he can.

It’s safe to say that Richard Branson perceives life somewhat differently than the majority, and it is this perspective that drives his thinking and actions everyday. He lives his life on the edge, living life to the fullest, living for the moment, with a work-hard/play-hard mentality. He chases his dreams, backed up by perseverance, imagination and courage, trusting his instincts.

So for me, Branson would make a great Father Christmas, cutting a dash on his sleigh, pulled along by those fabulous reindeer. Of course, whilst he has the beard, the reindeer have no tail – you know the story? Well, once upon a time, a reindeer took a running leap and jumped over the Northern Lights, but he jumped too low, and the long fur of his beautiful flowing tail got singed by the rainbow fires of the aurora – that’s why to this day the reindeer has no tail to this day.

So believe in Father Christmas, believe in yourself, believe in your dreams, and believe in your big, bigger, biggest vision.

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