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Donald Trump trashed Virgin founder Richard Branson
publicly and privately for Branson’s failed 2004 reality
Branson revealed the letter in his new book, “Finding My
Branson claims he ignored Trump’s attempt to win his
support for Trump’s presidential campaign.
Thirteen years before Richard Branson called President Donald
embarrassment for the world,” Trump sent the Virgin Group
founder a letter telling him that his new television show was
destined to fail, and that he questioned the legitimacy of his
In Branson’s new memoir, “Finding
My Virginity,” Branson published the letter and his response
in full. Trump’s letter, dated November 12, 2004, is below.
“I see that you are trying to take me on with your nasty
comments, much the same way as Mark Cuban had tried. As you know,
Mark went down in flames, his show was unceremoniously cancelled,
never to return again. In any event. now that I have watched your
show, I wish you came to me and asked my advice — I would have
told you not to bother. You have no television persona and, as I
found out with others a long time ago, if it’s not there there’s
not a thing in the world you can do about it.
“At least your dismal ratings can now allow you to concentrate on
your airline which, I am sure, needs every ounce of your energy.
It is obviously a terrible business and I can’t imagine, with
fuel prices etc., that you can be doing any better in it than
anyone else. Like television, you should try to get out of the
airline business too, as soon soon as possible! Actually, I
wonder out loud how you can be anywhere close to a billionaire
and be in that business. Perhaps the title of your show, The
Rebel Billionaire, is misleading?
“In any event, do not use me in order to promote your rapidly
sinking show — you are a big boy, try doing it by yourself!
“Donald J. Trump”
In November 2004, Branson’s reality competition show, “The Rebel
Billionaire,” had debuted to poor ratings. After “The
Apprentice,” NBC’s reality show built around Trump, became a
runaway hit in early 2004 — with an average of around 20 million
viewers — the other networks looked to capitalize on the dramatic
combination of “Survivor” and the business world that NBC’s
ABC tried a six-episode series that fall with Dallas Mavericks
owner Mark Cuban called “The Benefactor” that was received poorly
and received low ratings in 2004 of around 5 million
viewers. It was canceled shortly before Fox’s attempt with
Branson pulled any barely more viewers and
was also lampooned by critics.
It turned out that a charismatic billionaire host like Cuban or
Branson wasn’t enough to engage viewers.
Trump relished their failures, which he interpreted as
validation of his own series’ success, and made his thoughts
known to the public. While the ABC and Fox shows were flopping,
the second season of “The Apprentice” drew around 16 million
viewers per episode.
The day before “The Rebel Billionaire” premiered on November 9,
Branson appeared on Neil Cavuto’s Fox News show. Cavuto told
Branson that he had seen allegations that Branson’s show was a
copycat of Trump’s,
and asked him how he was different from Trump as a
“I think that people will find that the two things are completely
and utterly different,” Branson said, adding that he and Trump
had “a very different approach to the way we run our businesses.”
“I mean, I think Donald is very much the suited man, who, you
know, has his boardrooms and I think a sort of fairly ’80s
approach to business,” Branson said. “I’d like to think that we
have a 21st century approach to business. I’m out and about.
Never sit behind a desk.”
Two days after “The Rebel Billionaire” had a poor debut, Trump
was ready to talk.
“I don’t know the guy, but I think he’s got zero personality and
zero television persona,”
Trump told the New York Post.
According to Branson’s book, the two had actually had lunch at
Trump Tower in the early 1990s, at Trump’s invitation, after
Branson met Trump’s daughter Ivanka at the Business Traveler
Awards in London. In the book, Branson wrote that he didn’t
hear from Trump until the battle of the TV shows, but they met at
least once more before then, as Trump was a guest at Virgin
Mobile’s US launch party in 2002.
Trump also told the Post in that interview that he found “The
Rebel Billionaire” to be a misleading title, because he doubted
Branson was worth that much.
“I’m a major billionaire because it’s easy to add up my stuff.
But his airline has got to be sucking him dry,” Trump said,
referring to Virgin Atlantic and the bankruptcies plaguing the
airline industry after 9/11.
The day after trashing Branson in the Post, Trump decided to
write him the personal letter from Trump Tower.
According to Branson’s account in “Finding My Virginity,” he
sent a restrained reply five days later.
“I have enjoyed our time we have spent together and would not
denigrate you personally,” Branson wrote, saying he
told interviewers they had different values, namely on whether or
not vengeance should be a motivating factor in business. He also
said his billionaire status was confirmed by the shares he sold
and owned in his British and Australian airlines.
“Perhaps you could re-read what I have said to date and decide
whether it’s worth us remaining as friends — or alternatively,
you adding me to your list of enemies! It’s your call,”
Branson wrote in signing off.
The next time Branson heard from Trump, he wrote, was in
September 2015, when Trump was a Republican presidential
candidate. Branson said he received an envelope from Trump with a
Los Angeles Times article from a few days earlier. It was about
the competition among Branson, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, and Amazon
CEO Jeff Bezos to develop the first commercially viable private
aerospace company. Trump had taken a Sharpie and drawn an
arrow pointed at Branson’s photograph, writing, “RICHARD —
Branson said ignored this note, as well as the invitations he
said followed. As he said in his book, “I was one businessperson
his divisive rhetoric and bullying behavior would not impress.”