Branson lays down £1m bet to BA’s Walsh

Marion Dakers
VIRGIN founder Sir Richard Branson yesterday insisted that the brand will not disappear if a new investor takes a stake in his airline.

As Delta nears a deal to buy Singapore Airlines’ 49 per cent stake in Virgin Atlantic, Sir Richard hinted that he will not give up control of the carrier.

He wrote a blog post betting £1m that the Virgin Atlantic name will still exist in five years’ time.

The gamble was in response to comments from Willie Walsh, the boss of rival airline group IAG, who believes the brand could be consigned to the history books if US giant Delta takes over.

“I can’t see Delta wanting to operate the Virgin brand because if they do what does that say about the Delta brand?” he told the Telegraph.

The Virgin tycoon has pledged to give £1m to staff at British Airways, which is owned by IAG, if he loses the bet. He wants Walsh to give the same sum to Virgin staff if he is proved right.

“Rumours have been spread in the press that I am planning to give up control of Virgin Atlantic and, according to Willie Walsh ... that our brand will soon disappear. This is wishful thinking and totally misguided,” Sir Richard wrote.

“Virgin Atlantic was my baby 28 years ago when we set up with just one plane. Like all children, they never really stop being your babies and Virgin Atlantic is still much cherished.”

A spokesperson for British Airways declined to comment on whether Walsh will agree to the bet.

Delta, Singapore and Virgin were all tight-lipped yesterday about the looming stake sale, which according to reports would cost Delta up to $500m (£311m).

Sources say an agreement could be struck between the airlines as soon as this week.