Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Branson to All Blacks: Relax and have a blast

Renee Cornaga and Sir Richard Branson. Photo / Greg Bowker
Renee Cornaga and Sir Richard Branson. Photo / Greg Bowker

British billionaire Sir Richard Branson's advice to the All Blacks is "to relax and have a blast" to finish the Rugby World Cup.

"I'll be a bit boring and recommend they avoid partying for the next three nights but they've done all the training they can do, they should get out and have the funnest day of their lives and have a blast."

The Virgin Group founder is in Auckland for the Rugby World Cup finals and last night spoke at a glittering charity dinner at Auckland's Viaduct Events Centre.

Sir Richard is here for the two matches accompanied by his daughter Holly, her fiance and family friends. Local A-listers who missed out were on standby for tickets for the function attended by more than 1360 guests.

They paid up to $1800 a seat for a five-course meal and advice from Sir Richard on how to make it to the top and how to make a difference to the world when you get there.

Speaking to the Herald before the dinner, Sir Richard said he was a "keen rugby fan. I was obviously hoping it would be England versus All Blacks [in the final]. France has been England's sporting enemy for generations so I'll be an All Black supporter on Sunday."

While tables were bought mainly by corporates to entertain guests in Auckland for the cup, organisers said several hundred locals had bought individual tickets which started at $995.

Among guests at the black-tie dinner were former model Rachel Hunter, Kiwi golf caddy Steve Williams and New Zealand business leaders including Sir Michael Hill and former Microsoft and General Motors chief financial officer Chris Liddell.

Former All Blacks Andy Haden, Gary Whetton and Josh Kronfeld were also on the guest list.

Branson family friend Elizabeth Emanuel - who designed Princess Diana's wedding dress - was also due to be there.

The dinner featured a special auction expected to raise more than $200,000 for Outward Bound, which is in its 50th anniversary year.

One guest paid $35,000 to have entertainer Dave Dobbyn perform privately for an hour.

A 10-course dinner for eight by chef Simon Gault with the Prime Minister as guest of honour went for $20,000.

A four-hour cruise for six with Rachel Hunter on board Sir Michael's yacht drew a top bid of $14,000.

Other prizes still being auctioned late last night included travel packages valued at more than $30,000.

The menu had a Bledisloe Cup flavour, including Clevedon oysters, Crystal Bay prawns from Queensland and New Zealand new season lamb. Wines were selected from 20 wineries which competed to make the function.

Holly Branson was at the dinner with boyfriend Freddie Andrewes, a former shipbroker.

The couple were due to marry at Sir Richard's home on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands in December but a fire there in August forced a change of plans. They are now due to marry on the ruined house site itself.

This week, Ms Branson, 29, was with her father at the commissioning of a space port in the New Mexico desert that will be the base for Virgin Galactic's commercial suborbital flights due to start after 2012.

Today, Sir Richard will be at Takapuna Beach to support a BNZ entrepreneur challenge. On Monday, he is scheduled to visit LanzaTech's biofuel pilot plant south of Auckland because of his interest in alternative fuels.

He is also due to meet Kiwis who have signed up for Virgin Galactic space flights. The 61-year-old, with an estimated fortune of $5 billion, knows a thing or two about taking seeking thrills. Sir Richard - whose businesses employ 50,000 people in 30 countries with revenues of more than $25 billion - has famously been in the odd sticky spot in ballooning accidents.

- NZ Herald

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