The first time he made love to a woman, Richard Branson recalls, he was amazed by her passionate response: "Then she whispered in my ear, 'I'm having an asthma attack. Get me an ambulance!' "
Decades later the 47-year-old British founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways—and the Virgin record label and music store chain—is still leaving females breathless. Only now the reaction is to his blue eyes, slightly disheveled exterior and—let's face it—his $2.1 billion personal fortune.
Branson, the son of a barrister and a dancer, "isn't a 'candles in the bathroom romantic,' " says Kristen Tomassi, who still views him fondly though their four-year marriage ended in 1976. "He's more of an outrageous romantic." Still, whether hot air ballooning above the African veld or overseeing his very own Caribbean island, Branson is always an admirer of the opposite sex. "I think women are beautiful," he says, "and I'm not afraid of showing it." Ivana Trump can vouch for that: Branson once flipped her upside down at a party. "Richard is good-looking and very smart, which is sexy to start with," she says. "He also makes a billion dollars before breakfast—and still knows how to have fun."
The woman who keeps this magnate grounded is Joan Templeman, his Glasgow-born wife of eight years and the mother of his two children. Branson calls her "fantastically adorable," adding, "With Joan, I was searching for someone down-to-earth." Which Is not to diminish his lust for the sky. For the benefit of amorous air travelers, says Branson, by the year 2001 his planes "are going to have Jacuzzis, showers and double beds."