I remember it was a hot July afternoon more than 20 years ago. Sir Richard Branson, then Britain's most successful businessman and admired by all, was meeting the Mayor of the tiny municipality of Banyalbufar on the west coast. Branson owned a third of Banyalbufar through his purchase of the Son Bunyola estate and adjacent farms. In fact, locals had changed the place-name sign to Virgin town! But this was not a courtesy call.
Branson was trying to break the deadlock because he wanted to transform the Son Bunyola estate into a luxury hotel. The Mayor was saying no, on environmental grounds but it was a rather senseless excuse. The meeting finished and Branson emerged from the town hall with his customary smile. He spoke to the waiting press pack and they departed. But my colleague Humphrey Carter and I stayed back. We followed the tycoon through the streets of Banyalbufar until he boarded his car. Luckily we were parked nearby so we drove out almost at the same time with the Branson vehicle leading. They stopped outside the impressive entrance to Son Bunyola while Branson's driver opened the “Downton Abbey style gates.”
The Virgin tycoon's business partner was called Axel, a well known local developer and friend of Branson. Humphrey, shouted out “Yo Axel,” one of the favourite lines from the Beverly Hills Cop films, and a rather stunned Axel and Branson turned around and looked as us and then Branson said “do you want to take a look...” So for the next hour we were given a guided tour of Son Bunyola. Branson just loved the project.... “I want to turn it into one of the most luxurious hotels in the Mediterranean,” he said. But it was not to be....at least in the short-term.
The Council of Mallorca and the Banyalbufar council gave the project the thumbs down and it appeared to be the end of the story. Branson sold Son Bunyola and then he announced that he would also be selling his flagship La Residencia hotel in Deya. It was a question of Adios Virgin Town and Adios Mallorca. A major blow. But five years ago he re-purchased Son Bunyola and this week he was given permission to transform the Manor house into a 29 room hotel. A happy ending.