The Story Behind Richard Branson’s Naked Kitesurfing Photo

There are few photos of the world’s elite that are more infamous than this snap of Richard Branson from 2009. The multi-billionaire tycoon is known for his outlandish media stunts and maverick personality. But perhaps one of the defining photos of the man was apparently unstaged.

It was shot just off his tropical lair of Necker Island by photographer Stephane Gautronneau and features model Denni Parkinson. When chatting to Business Insider, Branson offered up this explanation.

“Sometimes we’ll go off island for the rest of the day. About 18 miles away there’s a lovely island called Anagarda and we kitesurf over there. 

There was this quite delightful South African young girl with a photographer boyfriend on the island who wanted to take a particular picture. So he said: “Would you mind putting her on your back and taking her for a kitesurf?” I said I’d be delighted to! Silly question.

And then he said… would you mind if she didn’t wear any clothes? And I said… oh well I’m an English knight and there’s a lady in distress… I’ll be very happy to do that! So we we went kiting, and it did become one of those classic pictures that went off all around the world, and … we all had a good laugh, and I remember as we all came in, catching my wife’s eyes… she was standing on the beach, oops! [laughs.]

I learnt to kitesurf about eight years ago when the sport was still slightly hairy because they hadn’t designed kites that were easy to control. Fortunately, I haven’t had any major accidents and nowadays kitesurfing is much safer. I think people exaggerate about how difficult it is; you can learn to do it in five hours.”