Richard Branson, Britain's 15th-richest man and one of its most prominent businessmen, was voted the country's leading role model among young people. He is full of paradoxes: he is a self-publicist who claims to be fiercely shy, a motivator of others who wore odd socks on the day of the launch of his airline, and a billionaire who borrows fivers without hesitation from friends and employees. Despite his reputation as a financial wizard, he runs a business more conspicuous for its size than its profits. Millions of pounds have been lost on such projects as "Events" listings magazine, the film "Absolute Beginners" and Virgin ventures into pubs, satellite broadcasting, clothes retailing and recording studios. And, despite the publicity reaped from a run-in with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic produces only a modest rate of return. This is a portrait of Branson which draws together the contradictions of this upper-middle-class Englishman who signed the Sex Pistols and for whom danger is a sensation he appears to relish.