Winslet helps escapees as lightning torches Branson home

22nd August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet and members of Richard Branson's family escaped unharmed Monday when a lightning storm hit the Virgin tycoon's Caribbean island home, which was destroyed in a blaze.

Winslet carried Branson's 90-year-old mother Eve out of The Great House on Necker Island as the flames took hold in the early hours of the morning.

"She (Winslet) was staying there with her children and in fact it was she who carried my mother out of the house," Branson told Britain's ITV News.

"She swept her up into her arms and got them out of the house as fast as possible."

Winslet said "it's like being in a film set where you're waiting for the words 'cut' but they just don't come," the entrepreneur added.

Branson's 29-year-old daughter Holly was also forced to flee the flames.

The 60-year-old businessman had been staying in another property nearby with his wife Joan and son Sam, when the lightning struck the main house.

"We had a really bad tropical storm with winds up to 90 miles (145 kilometres) per hour. A big lightning storm came around 4:00 am and hit the house.

"My son Sam rushed to the house and helped get everyone out. Kate Winslet, her boyfriend and her family were there and Holly and some of her friends were also staying.

"The main house is completely destroyed and the fire is not yet completely out. My office was based in the house and I have lost thousands of photographs which is very sad.

"We want to rebuild the house as soon as we can. We have a wonderful staff here and we want them to stay in work.

"We'll all stay here for the time being. There's a lot of damage and we won't be able to stick it back together again right away. It was a beautiful house."

Branson bought the island in the early 1980s. It is part of the British Virgin Islands.

Each bedroom in the house has its own balcony, king-size bed and en-suite bathroom.

"Set on the top of Devil's Hill, this beautiful house is the heart of the island," Necker's website says.

"The jewel in the crown is the master suite which has its own jacuzzi and private terrace with panoramic views over the ocean and neighbouring islands."

The island can be hired privately for $54,500 (38,000 euros) a night.

© 2011 AFP

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