Richard Branson on Surfing with Barack Obama and Michelle's First Words to Him Post-Presidency: 'We're Free!'
The business mogul reveals how thrilled the Obamas were during their first post-presidency vacation
In Richard Branson‘s new autobiography, Finding My Virginity, he divulges the personal story behind his Virgin empire, and shares anecdotes involving his impressive circle of friends — including former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama.
“We’re free!” Michelle Obama said, according to Branson, as he and his wife, Joan, greeted the couple.
“I’ve never been one for reserve and Barack and Michelle were eager to do away with formalities, too,” he writes. “When one of our team asked how to address the former First Lady, she gleefully shouted, ‘Michelle!'”
“It’s so nice to have my name back after eight years,” she told Branson, according to the book.
She wasn’t the only one who was thrilled to visit the private islands of Necker and Moskito.
“One of the first stories Barack told me when he and Michelle arrived on Moskito Island was how, just before he became President, he had been surfing on a dangerous break in Hawaii,” Branson wrote on his blog about the visit. “When he came in from an exhilarating session, the new head of his security team turned to him and said: ‘This will be the last time you surf for eight years.’ For the next eight years he didn’t have the chance to surf, enjoy water sports or do many of the things he loved.”
Unsurprisingly, Obama was eager to get back on the water during the visit, and happily accepted Branson’s challenge: learning to kitesurf while Branson learned to foilboard in a challenge to see who could be the first to master their sport. On the last day, Obama beat Branson on the water by 100 meters.
“I had to doff my cap to him and celebrate his victory,” Branson writes in the book of Obama’s win. “At the end of the thrilling kitesurfing session, he was standing shirtless at the back of the boat with an invigorated look on his face, muscles bulging and eyes beaming. I looked at him and thought: ‘Eat your heart out, Putin!'”
RELATED VIDEO: Richard Branson vs. Barack Obama in Water Sports
When they weren’t playing games, the Bransons and Obamas explored the islands. Though the Obamas were able to relax fully for the first time in years, that didn’t stop them from discussing serious issues.
“I asked [Barack] how hopeful he was for the future, and he told me Michelle was more of a glass half-empty attitude, whereas he is a more glass half-full type of person,” Branson writes. “While all the news coming out of the US was about Trump trying to dismantle all Barack had worked so hard for, his attitude was just to get on with his life, have a well-deserved holiday and recharge ready to work — I’m sure, tirelessly — when he returned to the US.”
In a separate section of the book, Branson reveals his own past interactions with Donald Trump before the Trump presidency. Specifically, a random lunch in which Trump told Branson that he would “destroy” five people who refused to assist him.
A decade later, in 2004, Trump reached out again to send him a scathing letter about his show The Rebel Billionaire, which he viewed as competing with his own show The Apprentice (“At least your dismal ratings can now allow you to concentrate on your airline which, I am sure, needs every ounce of your energy,” Trump wrote). In March, Branson described Trump as “an embarrassment for the world.”
Fortunately for the Obamas, Branson’s islands served as a peaceful sanctuary from the political maelstrom. They stayed there for 10 days. According to the book, on the last night the Obamas hosted a party for all of the staff members they had met during their visit. Branson remembers them being “the first up on the bar dancing with us, getting the party going, making everybody feel at home and welcome.”
“When they left, Michelle told us it was the first time she had felt teary at the end of a holiday,” Branson writes.
“‘Can we just bottle this up and keep this vibe?'” he remembers her asking.
Finding My Virginity is on sale now.