Yes, he did. Personally.
Two years ago I was getting ready to take my four children to London and Paris for the first time. They had never been out of the country. I was particularly interested in the UK since I had spent my junior year abroad there in college. In 2003 I took a solo trip to London to celebrate my 35th birthday. Virgin Atlantic was my obvious choice from LAX, and I was able to snag a sweet deal in business class. I was sold, and determined that whenever life would take me to London, I would be a Virgin devotee.
Back to two summers ago - we did not go business class, alas. But we did make it to London and it was spectacular. We had a townhouse rented in Notting Hill, and from there we took off to Paris for a couple of days to see what we could see. And, why not? A two-hour train ride to another splendid city was in order. As an artist, trips like these are a feast for my senses. I carefully research and gather art supplies from places in Europe that can't be found anywhere else. We found some pretty cool mementos on our trip, and with heavy hearts and stuffed suitcases we returned to Heathrow for our trip home. I had upgraded us all to Premium Economy, so we had no lines checking in. We each had our own checked bags - five in all. You know, the loot. I had an odd feeling, but brushed it aside. Back in LA, we waited for our bags. All arrived but one. Mine. The big one - the one with all the good stuff. We waited, and nothing. Almost in tears, I made a lost baggage claim and we went home. I called the airlines and it turns out that although we checked five bags, only four had claim tags. They assured me it would arrive on the next day's flight. It didn't. That was my off feeling. The Virgin Office at Heathrow, though polite, regrettably had their hands tied if I had no claim ticket. I was ready to hop on another flight back over to look. I knew it was somewhere. If you have no ticket for your bag, it could essentially end up anywhere. I had my name on it, but still. I was thinking of all the ways it could have been violated - all our first time family memories packed safely away lost forever. My books, art supplies and hand forged Laguiole knives from Île Saint- Louis? Likely I'd never see them again, not to mention the special items the kids picked out. It doesn't help to look up what happens to lost luggage on Google. From what I read, my bag could be lost for months at best. At worst, never found.
I took things into my own hands. Sir Richard Branson, philanthropist, entrepreneur extraordinaire -he understood customer service, surely. I wrote him an email. I found what looked like the most logical email address he would use, and wrote my plea, subject line reading Please help me find my lost bag at Heathrow. Desperate times require desperate measures. I had nothing to lose. Next day I received an email from his assistant Julie who reassured me that Mr. Branson himself was on it and had requested his top supervisors to come together to locate my bag. He was also very sorry this happened. The day after this reply, my suitcase arrived by special delivery by courier to my house. Not only that, I was given updates for when the plane landed, when the bag cleared customs, and when it was on its way.
I collapsed into tears. How did this change my life? It restored my faith in humanity. It made me realize several things.
Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
People want to help and are generally good and generous.
And perhaps the most important thing - question why I was so moved by another's kindness. Because realizing my own hang-ups about life growing up with two selfish parents, it was suddenly clear that my needs were never important. When someone does something nice for you, it really knocks you to the floor and you begin to believe you have worth.
I started reading Sir Richard's books and was inspired by his life's stories. He embraced chance by pursuing opportunities not always knowing the outcome. When he purchased Necker Island, he had no idea how he would come up with the funds to pay for it. He had faith that he would find a way. Mr. Branson's limitations were his keys to success. He overcame what others said couldn't be done. Flight cancelled due to bad weather in the tropics? Gather your wits and charter a plane with all the other disgruntled passengers. Virgin Airways is born.
If you have the will to do something, it can become a reality. The scripts that are in your head about what you can and cannot do are not your truths. Maybe they are someone else's. Question the rules. Most are made by people who don't want you to succeed in life.
So thank you, Mr. Branson, for the wakeup call.