January 16, 2003 11:54 AM

Age: 21

Family fortune: $1.6 billion

Obsession: privacy

There are parallel lives that Holly Branson could be living. She might have been a model — she tried it in 1998, posing for British Cosmopolitan in just a pair of jeans to promote father Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin clothing line. Or she could have been a royal hanger-on, partying with the princes and waiting to marry. In fact, rumor had it back in 1999 that she was a guest of Prince William’s at his father’s country estate. But Holly, heir with brother Sam, 17, to the privately held Virgin empire — which includes an airline, trains and a cola division — has chosen a different life. She’s studying medicine at London’s University College and plans to be a pediatrician. While her flamboyant dad has a passion for big buys — like the Caribbean Necker Island — Holly isn’t a spendthrift, for which aunt Vanessa Branson credits Richard and wife Joan. “She’s not been denied anything,” says Vanessa. “Her parents know she wouldn’t abuse money. Privilege itself is not a destructive force.”

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