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A model buccaneer

Since leaving school at 16, Richard Branson has been rocketing around Britain and the world starting music, mobile phone, airline, railroad, and even spaceship companies to terrific fanfare and considerable success if £ billions in revenue are anything to go by. He has been named one of the 100 Worst Britons and one of the 100 Greatest. Clearly success annoys some people.

Recently he launched the world’s first public-private umbilical cord blood bank. Parents will be able to store stem cells from their children's umbilical cords in the bank, which will hold up to 300,000 umbilical cord blood samples. As we note in the 21st century timeline, Kingston University is using microgravity technology developed by NASA to multiply stem cells from umbilical blood in large enough quantities to be used to regenerate human tissue and bone.

Branson’s goatee lends him a swashbuckling air, but so do his ventures, named Virgin in a distinct echo of the Elizabethan Queen or, more plausibly, in tribute to his pleasure in breaking new ground. He shares the imagination and energy of the Virgin Queen’s privateers who crossed uncharted seas.

Branson does not believe in asking the government to sort out his life. He has escaped increasingly onerous business regulations from Westminster and Brussels by setting up his companies offshore. He long ago shed any soul-shrinking assumptions about what he could not achieve. And he clearly is not afraid of failure.

He is passionate about the things he cares about, such as the International Rescue Corps, one of the few truly independent front-line search and rescue organisations in the world – a UK-registered charity, financed solely by donations, and manned totally by volunteers. He is the Corps' Patron.

Another passion: space flight. See updates here and here if you want to travel into space with Branson's Virgin Galactic.

Will young men and women in Britain have a chance to do what Branson has done (offshore accounts excepted)? If we insist that government stop regulating life, and stop confining children in schools that teach them cynicism and despair and little else, and if young men and women turn toward the world with imagination, self-discipline and generosity, yes.