For entertainment and song, I’d like to invite Elvis Presley and John Lennon (pictured)—the latter would be thrilled to duet with his boyhood hero. (For entertainment and song, I’d like to invite Elvis Presley and John Lennon (pictured)—the latter would be thrilled to duet with his boyhood hero.)
For entertainment and song, I’d like to invite Elvis Presley and John Lennon (pictured)—the latter would be thrilled to duet with his boyhood hero.
(For entertainment and song, I’d like to invite Elvis Presley and John Lennon (pictured)—the latter would be thrilled to duet with his boyhood hero.)

I’d like to invite Churchill, Lennon, Ali and Clooney for dinner

The notion of asking pairs of captivating guests with different ideals to come together is appealing

There are few finer pleasures in life than long, relaxed discussions fueled by good food, wine and camaraderie. I meet many fascinating people through my work and philanthropic efforts and often invite them to dinner at my home on Necker Island. Someone recently asked me who I would invite to my dream dinner party, if there were no limits on space and time.

As I came up with a wish list of guests from across history, I realized that many of them had allies and enemies in their time, and I wanted to get both sides of those stories. The notion of asking pairs of captivating guests with different ideals to come together began to appeal to me.

For witty repartee, it would be a pleasure to invite Winston Churchill, who led Britain during the World War II, and his sparring partner, Lady Nancy Witcher Astor, the first woman to win a seat in the House of Commons. What a thrill it would be to hear them in full form. She once famously told Churchill: “If you were my husband, I would poison your tea." He replied: “If you were my wife, I would drink it!" It would also be a privilege to hear anything Churchill might have to say about leadership.

A great conversation often includes tales of adventure, so it would be brilliant to invite some of the great British explorers: Daredevils who discovered new lands and advanced our understanding of the world. I would ask Sir Walter Raleigh, who led expeditions to the New World, along with Queen Elizabeth I, to find out whether she really was having an affair with him. Later in the evening, we might ask the Virgin Queen for branding tips—she knew her business well.

The people I have selected so far are leaders who must have had rather large egos to have accomplished what they did. To bring in an element of philanthropy and a broader perspective, I would invite Melinda Gates. She and her husband, Bill, have done a lot of good for humanity through their foundation—everything from working towards the elimination of the polio virus to supporting relief agencies that respond to natural disasters and other emergencies. They are fascinating people who would complement the other guests perfectly.

For the very broadest perspective, I would invite Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon. I was saddened by his recent death; it would be wonderful to see him again. He was a fascinating character, though quite shy and retiring with those he didn’t know well—he didn’t like the limelight. I would have loved to get his thoughts on Virgin Galactic.

For entertainment and song, I’d like to invite Elvis Presley and John Lennon (the latter would be thrilled to duet with his boyhood hero). The best singers tend to have remarkable personal stories, and Lennon and Elvis were no exceptions. Elvis was such a great talent but self-destructed—it would be great to find out what made him tick.

We would need someone to provide insight into the other guests’ motivations, so some actors should make the list as well. Apparently George Clooney once said that he would quite like to swap lives with me. Well, my wife Joan quite likes that idea, and I must admit, I wouldn’t much object to being in the shoes of a man who is often voted one of the sexiest men alive. In any case, we could all discuss this over dinner. I have also been lucky enough to get to know Jane Fonda over the years; she is wise and a joy to spend time with, and I’d love it if she joined us.

The discussion might become intense—consider that we would have Churchill, a Tudor and Elvis all in the same room. To keep the crowd under control, I would like to invite Muhammad Ali. He isn’t just one of the greatest athletes of all time, but also one of the bravest. His opposition to the Vietnam War—and his refusal to be drafted into the army—was a controversial stance for a sports star at that time. While Ali faced setbacks in his career, he came back to win even more challenging bouts, showing that his strength was mental as well as physical.

The discussion would go long into the night, with the guests chatting in groups and listening to the singers riff off each other; perhaps some would indulge in Churchill’s cigars. Later, we might go down to the beach for a swim. What could be better? Such evenings recharge us—I treasure them.

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By NYT Syndicate

© 2012 Richard Branson

Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/richardbranson.

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