Richard Branson 'devoured by a whale shark' (and spit back out…)


Richard Branson is ‘devoured by a whale shark’

Richard Branson admits that, while delighted with his laser eye surgery, he swam into the mouth of a whale shark

by Tim Walker

4:00AM BST 31 Jul 2011

Although Sir Richard Branson was delighted with his laser eye surgery – he said that it had him seeing “perfectly” again – he still managed to accidentally swim into the mouth of a whale shark earlier this month.

“I was swimming around one of these gentle giants off Cancun in Mexico – and then, suddenly, I realised I had managed to get myself right inside it,” the 61-year-old tycoon told me over breakfast at the ExCel Centre yesterday before the Virgin Active London Triathlon.

“Whales sharks have got enormous mouths and this one just literally puffed me out. They are gigantic, but gentle. I think the story of Jonah most likely came from a whale shark. I can’t really think of anything else living in the sea that could swallow you without also killing you.”

Sir Richard has much to live for. He can’t wait, in particular, for his daughter, Holly, to present him with a grandchild. She marries her boyfriend, Freddie Andrews, in December. “I keep saying to her: ‘Why wait for the wedding?’,” he teases.

Mandrake’s disclosure that Hugh Bonneville had proposed Joanna Lumley, his co-star in the new series of Downton Abbey, for membership of the Garrick Club has been received with mixed feelings.

Dame Judi Dench, pictured below, was asked at a dinner held in her honour at the revered club what she thought of the “men-only” rule. She responded that she thought it was “a splendid idea”. Michael Williams, the actress’s late husband, was a much-loved member of the club for more than 25 years.

Sir Donald Sinden, a Garrick stalwart, has in the past described it as a “chaps’ club for chaps,” but yesterday he was reluctant to re-enter the fray. “It’s something we have agreed to look at again in another five years, and I’m happy not to have to say anything about it again until then,” the great man told me with a laugh.

BBC number crunchers

BBC 52 IS not, mercifully, the name of a new digital channel being launched by the corporation, but the personalised number plate I spotted on a Bentley parked outside the London Library the other week. Now, a BBC 262 has drawn up outside the Studley Castle Hotel in Warwickshire. “It was a great big expensive-looking car – a limo of some description – but the marque I didn’t recognise,” a reader calls to inform me.

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