March 10th, 2013, Mother's Day in the UK, marked the publication of Mum's the Word, a memoir about Eve Branson's life that includes her role as mother to one of the world's most colorful entrepreneurs. In his Foreword, Richard described her as an "extraordinary, inspirational woman who has always led a "full-on" life, adding "I wouldn't swap her for any other mum."
Here Eve's editor and co-writer Holly Peppe talks about how the book began and evolved over a decade. Today, at 88, Eve is already working on her next book, tentatively entitled Never Too Late.
I met Eve and Ted Branson in 1990 when I served as Public Relations Director for ORBIS International, the nonprofit flying eye hospital that provides surgical training to eye doctors in developing countries. Their son Richard, who had launched Virgin Atlantic Airlines in 1984, had generously offered to fly our senior staff and volunteer doctors free of charge on all Virgin routes. Soon after, on a trip from my home in New York to an ORBIS program in India, I stopped in London to meet Eve and Ted for dinner, as they were interested in learning about our humanitarian work.
Eve and I bonded immediately. Outgoing, fun-loving and energetic, she was clearly on the lookout for adventure. In Ted's words, she was a 'force of nature.' Yet I soon learned that we shared a passion for one of her quieter pastimes: writing. Eve said she got up every morning before anyone else in the house was awake and wrote stories, plays, essays, and, most interesting to me, entries in a daily journal she had kept for more than 40 years.
I too lived a 'double life': unknown to my PR and media colleagues, I was a closet PhD, a poetry scholar and former college professor. When I shared one of my literary accomplishments with Eve--editing a Penguin Classics poetry collection--she said she had handed out hundreds of Penguin books to occupy the minds of nervous passengers as part of her job as an "air hostess" in the late 1940's, before I was even born!
Our friendship developed quickly after that first meeting. Though we were a rather unlikely duo, coming from different countries and generations, we shared an offbeat sense of humor and there was nothing we couldn't talk about. We soon created our own symbolic language to refer to people without offending present company. We renamed one man we knew "Shoes" and another "Boots," which made our conversations amusing to us, if not puzzling to eavesdroppers.
Luckily our husbands became great friends too and we all enjoyed many grand adventures in various parts of the world. But most often Eve and I met up on our own to work on her memoir, which I began fashioning out of her journals some 10 years ago. On an early trip to Cakeham, the family home a few hours south of London, I had retrieved 900 typewritten pages of entries from stacks of cardboard boxes that were stored in a rarely used dining room, and vowed to bring her story to light.
It was a daunting task, made more challenging by Eve's own playful admission that her story lines, facts and figures were often based on selective memory. Various family members politely suggested to me that Eve's version of events did not always jive with theirs. "Never mind," was Eve's response. "That's what disclaimers are for!"
Early in the re-writing process, our personal differences came into view. With her practical, pro-active approach to life, Eve would often avoid recounting experiences that carried a strong emotional impact--she didn't see the point in dwelling on what had gone before. "No regrets, move ahead, leave the past behind!" was her mantra.
I, on the other hand, one part journalist and two parts poet, was always looking for more feeling, more evidence of the inner turmoil that plagued her at various points in her life, more moving descriptions of memorable moments of joy and angst.
"How did that make you feel?" I'd ask, probing for a line of two of raw emotion.
"It was tough but I got through it," she'd answer. "We weren't namby-pamby then, as people are now. Besides, how I felt is none of anyone else's business!"
"But just give me a few lines about your state of mind, even a few words?" I'd plead until she finally gave in.
And so it went--a decade of close collaboration and friendship--as we distilled nearly 90 years into 250 pages that tell the tale of Evette Huntley Branson and her remarkable, well-lived life.
Mum's the Word is available on Amazon.com.