IMG 8560fi - A potted history of Richard Branson's boat

This post reflects the changes over the years of Sir Richard Branson’s house boat at London’s Little Venice and the arrival of the new houseboat which has been in the news recently. It must be said the new boat now being touted as Richard Branson’s houseboat is NOT his houseboat. He has never lived on the new one. The old one, known as Duende, was his home and also where the Virgin empire begun. The picture below shows Branson as a rather younger man in the bath on Duende.

Embed from Getty Images

This post is written specially to put the record straight re ‘Branson’s houseboat’ but its also a potted history of the actual boat he once lived on at Little Venice,illustrated by a number of the photographs I took of it.

This is not the first time any of Branson’s boats have been rented out, its happened from time to time and has duly been reported in the local papers.
Everyone says Branson’s boat has been transformed, that its now a most unrecognisable boat. Its no transformation, its not the same boat. The 2017 boat is a totally new build. The old boat was taken away and demolished.

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Sir Richard Branson working while his son Sam, looks out of the boat’s window. Source: Virgin Blog

I first knew Duende in the eighties, Branson had been on it a few years and the Virgin empire was in its infancy. As I have written elsewhere, I used to know some of the people inthe houseboats on the offside of the canal at Little Venice, and how I got to meet Richard Branson’s cleaner. She took me onto Duende for a tour of the boat and thats the one and only time I have visited it. This alone has kept my interest in the boat’s progress over the years.

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Business meeting on Duende. The old Lord Hills bridge can be seen through the window. Source: Big Pictures Club (Note: The page is no longer available – picture used is archived.)

As I have written a number of times previously, Duende wasnt seen as a reputable sort of boat. In fact locals claimed it was an eyesore because it was not looked after very well! Once again here’s that article I have mentioned several times over the years. Its from 1989.

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However I would like to leap to Branson’s defence. A wooden boat takes a lot of maintenance to look after which is a partial reason why it has from time to time faced problems. The hull was brought to Little Venice and the superstructure modified on location, which just means it cannot be taken away for repairs.

Its quite possible those who have rented the boat haven’t reported disrepair issues to Branson’s agents as soon as they arose, and such instances become obvious to the many who walk along the towpath or pass on another boat. So there is another element to the story that people don’t see.

As my pictures will show, yes there were problems but remember the age and condition of the boat combined with the difficulty of doing comprehensive repairs. Overall I think a good job was done and the boat was very nice to look at. Sadly its age began to tell and a point was reached in 2016 where it just wasn’t possible to do this work any longer.

The following pics are a selection of my photos of Branson’s boat from 2005 to the present.

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A shot of the rear of Duende in 2005 from Lord Hills footbridge. Note the old upper deck & railings.

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The boat seen in March 2008 almost entirely covered in plastic sheeting. The upper deck is to be rebuilt.

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April 2009. Duende in a good state of repair after the previous year’s efforts. Note new upper deck.

The boat is too high for the bridges, it can’t even get under the footbridge immediately adjacent! Some of the much larger boats that do visit Little Venice have retractable wheelhouses and can just about squeeze through the tightest bridges. Unlike the other residential boats at Little Venice which can be taken away and dry docked, major repairs on Duende could only take place on site at Little Venice, and that’s quite difficult.

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General view of the canal at Little Venice with Duende on the left. May 2010.

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May 2012: Grey duotones for Duende. These colours were used right to the very end.

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Branson’s new boat in August 2016 before work began fitting it out – and a whole year before things really became news!

I missed the last weeks of Duende however this tweet from Maida Vale News fills the gap and shows scaffolding across it. This was to facilitate the superstructure’s dismantling.

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Duende in December 2016 largely dismantled. Branson’s new boat can be seen in the distance.

The old boat was last seen at Cowley lock, near Uxbridge, en route to Rickmansworth where it was to be broken up.

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6 August 2017, seen from Little Venice’s gondola. Blinds just been put up
Compare these recent tweets re the news Richard Branson’s boat was available for rent with those from July 2012:

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Front cover of the Ham & High (Wood & Vale edition) 12 July 2012.

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Content from the Ham & High (Wood & Vale edition) 12 July 2012.

There’s a shortened online version of these pictures at the Ham & High website.

On a final note, it must be said the Virgin Empire, which began on a boat at Little Venice, is back in the area and once again its a ‘boat!’ That is, a building! This is the Battleship, which started life as a British Rail depot in 1968 and something of a radical design as rail facilities go! The Battleship was taken over by Virgin in 2013. Previously it had been Monsoon’s head offices.

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The boss’ Virgin headquarters in Little Venice at what is affectionately known as The Battleship.

A good article on the creativity that is the Battleship building  in Little Venice can be found here.

Another good article on The Battleship with pics of the man himself plus a video here.

Update: Although the boat was supposed to be broken up according to the observations of other people, it seems the boat was actually fully restored and it has been brought back to its original moorings!