Fresh from breaking a world record by becoming the oldest person to kite-surf across the English Channel, 61-year-old Sir Richard Branson boosted his busy week by launching the 2012 Virgin Active London Triathlon today.
Bruised and bandaged but characteristically upbeat, the Virgin tycoon was joined by a mix of music, TV, film and radio personalities at the Virgin Active Chiswick Riverside in London to unveil the celebrity squad who will join him in September.
In a year that sees the capital hosting the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics in close succession, the Virgin Active London Triathlon will round off a momentous twelve months for Britain, and Branson – who has already begun training for this year’s event following an injury that saw him tone down last year’s attempt. ‘I drank most of the Thames when I did the swimming last year,’ he says. ‘So I think I’ll train a bit more and try to work out how to swallow less water this time.’
Star recruits include model and fitness fanatic Nell McAndrew, presenters Jeff Brazier, Michael Underwood, Zoe Hardman and Hayley McQueen, TV stars Ollie Locke, Chelsee Healey and Ricky Rayment, plus singers Michelle Heaton, Gareth Gates and ex-S Club 7 songster Jon Lee.
The IMG Challenger event – now in its second year – will raise money for the charities Cancer Research UK and Wellchild, and will take place in London’s Docklands on September 22 and 23.
So Richard, how’s the training going?
‘Well, because I’ve been training for something else I’m getting into shape’.
How do you prepare yourself, both mentally and physically, for something like this?
‘I think as always it’s just managing to find the time to get your body fit. If your body’s fit then the mental aspect will be fine. I found when training for the marathon I just needed to put in the hours and make sure that I did the eighteen-mile run a week or two before and then the marathon wasn’t too difficult. And the same applies to a triathlon, you’ve just got to be diligent and get the training in and then you should have a lot of fun on the day – in fact masses of fun, it’s great fun.’
So how do you generally workout?
‘Well obviously I’m lucky because I’ve got Virgin Active so when I’m in the UK they’ve got wonderful clubs and in quite a lot of other countries around the world. But when I’m not using a health club I just like to do fun things, so kite surfing is a big hobby of mine; surfing, skiing, playing tennis, any kind of sporting activities to keep fit.’
So no injuries for you this year?
‘No injuries, no I’ve got no excuses this year! Last year I’d just had an operation with a new ACL from a skiing accident but this year I’m completely injury free, apart from a couple of fingers!’
[…he holds up two bandaged fingers]
What did you do to your fingers?
‘Well I’ve rather foolishly, as you do, kite-surfed across the English Channel this weekend and that’s from the rubbing on the kite.’
What will you do after the London Triathlon to recover and unwind?
‘Well, once it’s all finished I think the whole team will just go out and we’ll be allowed a few drinks or two because we’ll have plenty of space in our stomachs to take a few!’
Are you on any special diet while you train?
‘I do sort of a month on drink, a month off drink. I do just like to keep fit, I like to keep healthy, and so I enjoy eating. I obviously try to cut down on sugar and things like that, which is just generally bad for you and I don’t smoke but, you know, I still like to eat good food.’
So who in Team Branson do you think is going to be the strongest competitor?
I think Nell [McAndrew] is pretty good. She’s always good, she always turns up and she always has a good smile so I’ll put my money on Nell.’
And what are you most looking forward to in the 2012 Virgin Active London Triathlon?
‘I think it’s just the camaraderie of a great bunch of people turning up to have a really fun day and have a good laugh and it always is just like that. And also for all the people that turn up to watch it, it’s just a fantastic day out.’