Richard Branson's Hairstylist on Giving Him a Cut That Worked in Zero Gravity
Billionaire and adventurer Sir Richard Branson flew to space aboard one of his own ships on July 11. The day before, Sean Donaldson freshened up his look
"We were in New Mexico already and he said, 'I need a fresher look for tomorrow,'" says Branson's hairstylist, Sean Donaldson. "He gave me ideas and we agreed for a tighter, cleaner look with more texture through the top."
Branson and Donaldson got talking and planned what they decided would be a "more modern yet rugged-classic look" for the billionaire adventurer. "The eyes of the world and beyond were going to be on him. He wanted it to be sharper around the sides and the back; tailored yet loose. Yet still, recognizably Richard Branson," the Miami-based celebrity pro tells PEOPLE.
Working as Branson's hairstylist for decades has taken Donaldson to plenty of faraway places, from London to Necker Island and South Africa. But he says nothing was quite like the moment before Branson took off from New Mexico to go into space. "Before the launch was absolutely magical," he says. "To visit Spaceport felt like being in one of the wonders of the world. It's breathtaking. The atmosphere was electric and very alive. It was a surreal experience."
As he helped Branson get ready, the duo talked about the "level of excitement" they each felt. "We spoke about his enthusiasm, what he was about to embark on and what it would mean for future space travelers," Donaldson says. "I got the impression this was more exciting to him with regards to the future of commercial space travel and opening the doors for all of mankind having the chance to go to space, which he had dreamed of as a small boy."
After Branson circled around the edge of space on his historic trip, Donaldson is sure that his client will be ready to get back in the chair soon for another fresh cut.
Says Donaldson, "Now he knows that my haircuts can stand the test of zero-gravity, I'm sure there's [another cut] on the horizon."
On July 11, Branson and five crew members strapped themselves into the VSS Unity at Virgin Galactic's spaceport in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The rocket-powered spaceplane was attached to the VMS Eve, a dual fuselage carrier aircraft named after Branson's "courageous" mother, who died of COVID-19 in January.
Around 8:30 a.m., Eve began its ascent tens of thousands of feet into the air until Unity freed itself from the mothership and let its powerful rocket fly the crew to an altitude of 53.5 miles above Earth's surface, which is past the 50-mile mark NASA and the U.S. military consider the edge of space.
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"I was surprised how relaxed I was, in a really good frame of mind, it was just great," Branson told PEOPLE. "We'd been trained so well, I knew exactly what to expect and when, and I was fierce and healthy."
The mission, which the company named "Unity 22," lasted about an hour in total before the crew touched down in New Mexico's desert. Virgin Galactic aims to begin taking private citizens to space in 2022, and Branson hopes his trip inspires young people to learn more about the stars.
Though Branson has faced criticism from those who believe he should use his wealth to tackle issues greater than space, including economic inequality and climate change, he told the TODAY show Wednesday that he hoped his space endeavors would help create jobs.
"I 100% agree that people who are in positions of wealth should spend most of their money, 90% or more of their money, trying to tackle these issues, but we should also create new industries that can create 800 engineers, and scientists who can create wonderful things that can make space accessible at a fraction of the environmental cost that it's been in the past," he said.
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