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The Kids of Business Icons: Holly Branson

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Sir Richard's daughter may be as glamorous and daring as her father, but the level-headed high-achiever also holds a medical degree.

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When Richard Branson was asked in 2008 if he'd follow Bill Gates' example and pledge his multi-billion dollar fortune to charity rather than leave it to his children, the Virgin tycoon flashed his broad signature smile and jested, "I think there's definitely something to be said for it. In fact it's a very good idea!"

Branson's joke was made for the benefit of his children, Holly and Sam, who flanked him on a couch during the Showbiz 411 interview. But a more serious answer followed. "Most of the money we make from Virgin is going to tackle social problems around the world -- diseases in Africa or global warming, or conflict resolution issues," Branson said. "So if the kids -- which I think they are -- are of a similar mind, then I rather they'd continue to build Virgin into a machine that can actually make money and change things."

For a billionaire heiress, Holly Branson, 29, seems to have taken her privileged lot in life with a measured grace and level head. While so many children of means are afflicted with the silver-spoon syndrome, daughter Branson is living proof that entitlement doesn't always have a destructive outcome. Not your prototypical rich kid socialite whose Fred Segal shopping sprees, DUI arrests, and sex tapes keep the paparazzi well fed, Branson makes the papers for good rather than garbage.

That's not to say that Sir Richard's daughter is a stranger to the British tabloids. Holly began garnering media attention at age 16 when she posed for Cosmopolitan in just a pair of Virgin jeans to promote her dad's clothing line. And, while in her early 20s, she could be seen out partying with royal family princes William and Harry and more recently with Glee star Matthew Morrison, her clubbing escapades never came to define her.

Kid Branson didn't become "important" for starring in her own MTV (VIA) reality show or launching her own skin-care line but, instead, for pursuing one of society's most honorable professions: medicine. Upon graduating from London's prestigious University College, Branson began serving as a junior doctor for the National Health Service in the neurology department at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.

When her father needed her expertise in his new business venture, Virgin Healthcare, which would provide a network of doctors and health-care services that integrated the UK's public health system with private care, she decided to join the project. "He's just offered me such an exciting opportunity I couldn't turn him down," Branson told the Daily Mail. "I trained very hard to get into medicine, so I won't say I'll never go back to it."

Later that year, junior doctor Branson briefly returned to practicing medicine in a makeshift hospital 35,000 feet in the air when she helped stabilize a fellow passenger on a Virgin flight who was suffering from a heart attack.

Clearly Holly has inherited a sense of ambition from her tycoon father, whose global superbrand of over 300 companies saw 2009 revenues exceeding $18 billion. Branson's only daughter also appears to share her dad's daredevil spirit. Richard Branson -- who's so uninsurable, he was forced to set up his own insurance company -- has been attempting transatlantic and transpacific records by boat and hot air balloon since 1986 when he first crossed the Atlantic in his "Virgin Atlantic Challenger II" speedboat in the fastest ever recorded time. Inspired by his record-breaking achievements, Holly and her 24-year-old musician brother Sam joined their dad in undertaking a new record for fastest Atlantic crossing in 2008.

"Most families like to spend time bonding over meals out, picnics in the country, maybe weekend camping trips -- we take things to the extreme," said Holly in her transatlantic diary published in The Mirror. Unfortunately their 3,000-mile, six-day mission reached an abrupt and perilous end when torrential rains and a 40-foot wave tattered the sail on their yacht only 50 hours into the trip.

This past April, the Branson kids found their own record-breaking success when they ran the Virgin-sponsored London marathon as part of a 34-person human caterpillar that included Princess Beatrice and Natalie Imbruglia. In addition to breaking the record for largest number of runners to finish the race while tied together, the group raised 200,000 pounds for charity.

While Paris Hilton recently celebrated her father's birthday over dinner in a posh Las Vegas restaurant, Holly Branson marked the occasion of her dad's 60th in August by kite surfing with him from England to France across the English Channel.

Holly Branson will no doubt embark on her greatest exploit when she joins the first commercial suborbital spaceflight aboard the Virgin Galactic Enterprise, a journey expected to happen within the next few years. Poised to become the first billionaire heiress in space, Branson said of the forthcoming adventure, "I'm not nervous yet but when they give me a date to go I will be."
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