Virgin Group head Richard Branson has offered a soft-focus denial of allegations that he sexually harassed a backup singer for English singer-songwriter Joss Stone. In statements published by The Telegraph, Branson said he had “no recollection of the incident” described by singer Antonia Jenae.
The allegations are suddenly in the headlines, but were initially aired in an October 16th Facebook post by Jenae. Jenae describes Branson “trying to convince me to show him my boobs” at an island party. Then, Jenae claimed, Branson “proceeded to ‘motorboard’ my breasts with his face” as the party was breaking up.
According to the Telegraph, the island referenced by Jenae is Necker Island, a Caribbean which Branson owns. The alleged incident would have taken place in June 2010, after Stone and her band played a nearby festival.
Jenae has since told The Sun that “his behaviour was disgusting. I feel like it was sexual assault . . . Everyone was wondering why I wasn’t angry because I’m usually a firebrand. But I was just too shocked.”
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A Virgin Management spokeswoman also stated, according to the Telegraph, that “everyone appeared to enjoy their time on the island. Richard has no recollection of this matter and neither do his family and friends, who were with him on the island at the time . . . there would never have been any intention to offend or make anyone feel uncomfortable in any way and Richard apologizes if anyone felt that way during their time on the island.”
Joss Stone’s father, Richard Stoker, also contributed to the Virgin statement to the Telegraph, saying that “Joss and the group had a wonderful afternoon on Necker Island, everybody entered into the party spirit and it was wonderful getting to know Richard and his family.”
There are elements of the statements that were once standard in such situations, but which the latest round of harassment allegations seems to have rendered insufficient. Senator Al Franken was roundly lambasted earlier this month for saying “I certainly don’t remember” what broadcaster Leeann Tweeden described as a coerced kiss, and for dismissing a picture of him pretending to grab her breasts as “clearly intended to be funny.”
Franken quickly amended his statement to something more genuinely contrite, and Branson may find himself having to do the same. In addition to the weakness of the ‘I don’t remember’ defense, Stoker’s claim that “everybody entered into the party spirit” seems to subtly imply that Branson’s forgotten behavior might have been acceptable under the circumstances, a sentiment unlikely to be received well in the post-Weinstein era.