This Entrepreneur’s Mortifying Behavior at Richard Branson’s Mansion Was a Wake-Up Call: ‘I Had Said Something Very Inappropriate’

14, 2021

8 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Growing up as a young, aspiring entrepreneur, Richard Branson was my idol. In a Record of Achievement note from my school, my media-studies teacher wrote, “Simon could well be the Richard Branson of the future” after we’d managed to get our computer fanzine onto television. I never knew that the opportunity would come up to meet him, let alone on Necker Island, Branson’s luxury private island.

After being $50,000 in debt (with nothing to show for it) and then turning my business around, my company hit its first million dollars in revenue in 2015, and my mindset was always to keep investing.

I hired mentors and coaches and joined different high-level groups, and finally, the opportunity came up to spend time with Richard Branson himself. 

A huge part of my company’s growth came from the decision to change my environment. I had spent many years in my home city of Exeter, U.K. around a lot of toxicity. I packed my bags and took myself to a new city, which freed up a lot of space and energy for me to get my life back on track. It helped, but there was still a lot of work to do.

I had already made the decision to take about 20 percent of what I made and put it back into my own personal and professional growth. This led me to work closely with some of the best minds in the world. I was aware that making a lot of money without changing my destructive behaviors could only end badly, but it took a trip to Necker for me to finally learn my biggest lesson, the hard way.

Related: What Richard Branson Learned From His 7 Biggest Failures

“The drinking started in the afternoon”

I arrived on the island, where I was welcomed with champagne. Only once we headed to the main house did it start to sink in that this was real. The sight was amazing, and it felt like a privilege to be at the home of a billionaire who had such a huge role in motivating me to grow as an entrepreneur.

We took a golf buggy and drove down to the tennis court area and bar, where I first spotted Branson. Trying to avoid being obviously star-struck, I sat down by the bar and kept to myself.

Later, during an island treasure hunt, I found myself running alongside Branson on the beach, casually chatting about life and business. It was super relaxed, and I was just so happy to be there. My intention was to learn as much as I could. 

Then, the drinking started in the early afternoon. I remember hanging out with Branson in the pool and hot tub  with his busy schedule, Branson might not even have been drinking. I, on the other hand, was indulging to my heart’s content. As soon as I saw the bottle, it was game over: the vodka and energy drink went down easily.

And once I had one drink, I couldn’t stop. Although I was there to listen to Branson present in the evening, my entire focus had shifted to alcohol. The day turned to night, and that’s when it all started to get blurry. Then, I remember being slumped in a beanbag as Richard took questions from the group. I could barely say a word. 

“I had said something very inappropriate”

I left the island and returned to my normal weekly routine, thinking nothing of it. But then I got an email from one of the organizers. 

“Simon, I need to speak to you about what happened on Necker.” 

My heart started to pound like I was being called into the headmaster’s office at school back in England. 

I jumped onto a Skype call, and the organizer informed me that I had said something very inappropriate to one of the women attending. He was very calm, but he also let me know that it was completely unacceptable . I always look back on that conversation in awe of how he handled it from a loving place, but was also very honest, giving me the opportunity to grow instead of expressing and making me feel even more terrible. 

I started sweating. I was genuinely in shock and started to panic, insisting that he give me her number so that I could apologize, which he did. When I spoke with her, she appreciated the apology and was forgiving. This provided me some relief, but I knew that the best thing I could do was change. I never wanted anything like this to happen again. 

Related: 5 Lessons I Learned on Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island

“What happened on Necker was the jolt that I needed to get serious about making a change”

Over the years, drinking excessively had been a pattern for me. I would get drunk, never remember what happened, then find out later and spend weeks beating myself up.

The late spiritual teacher Wayne Dyer said, “It’s not the snakebite that kills a man, it’s the venom.” I felt this acutely: I’d spent so much time beating myself up for the actions I committed while under the influence.  

Through a lot of work on myself, I learned that my unhealthy behaviors were linked to past events that I hadn’t healed from, and alcohol was one of many ways that I soothed myself. The opposite of is connection, and I was desperately craving it, but I didn’t know how, so I turned to the habits I’d established as a teenager. 

Alcohol would always be the starting substance of a sequence of negative behaviors. My addictive pattern consisted of alcohol, smoking, drugs, gambling and porn. The behaviors made me impatient, erratic and compulsive in business. I was “successful” financially and to the outside world, but inside, I was a mess, confused and lonely. I presented myself as confident, but it was a mask I wore well.

What happened on Necker was the jolt that I needed to get serious about making a change. Up until that point, I was in denial about what was really happening.

At that moment, I decided to attack my negative behaviors like I was on a mission. I wanted to be a better man  I just didn’t know how. I told myself that I would do whatever necessary to become a new man, and if it didn’t work at first, I would try again until it did. I had made a committment to myself. No more excuses. 

“Since that day, I’ve never looked back”

I started to learn about deep healing, and the deeper I went, the more the behaviors started to fall away. I overcame the internal battle that had crushed my inner spirit and true potential for years. I tore out all of the unhealthy addictions that had caused me to destroy the relationships and opportunities around me. I had my last drink in July of 2017, and since that day, I’ve never looked back. 

The impact has resulted in what I call “calm confident” energy. The frantic, unaware, reactive Simon is long gone, and while my life is not and will never be perfect, I’m so happy that I went on the journey to come back home, to my true self. 

I wanted to truly create a deeper impact in the world, and through the change I’ve created in myself, I can empathize more deeply with my clients throughout their transformation process.

To me, conscious leadership is about doing the tough work to become the best we can be so we can lead others to be happy in the world. If I’m lucky enough to meet Branson again, I’ll be fully present to listen to his words. 

Related: On the Surface, This Entrepreneur Had It All: Millions, a Beachside Mansion, Luxury Cars. But His New Life Was Built on a Dark Past. 

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