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Virgin Active is a chain of health clubs in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Italy, Australia, Singapore, Thailand and the United Kingdom.

Virgin Active Limited
Joint venture
IndustryHealth club, gym
FoundedPreston, Lancashire, United Kingdom (1998 (1998))
FounderRichard Branson
Number of locations
247 total
43 (UK)
133 (South Africa)
33 (Italy)
8 (Australia)
5 (Singapore)
7 (Thailand)
2 (Namibia)
1 (Botswana)
Area served
South Africa, Namibia, Italy, Australia, UK, Singapore, Thailand
OwnerChristo Wiese (80%)
Virgin Group (20%)



The gym company was launched in 1999[1] in Preston, Lancashire[2] as part of Richard Branson's Virgin Group, initially headquartered in Milton Keynes. In 2013 headquarters were moved to the Barbican in London leaving a small call centre in Milton Keynes.

In South Africa the company bought the assets of the 'Health and Racquet Club' chain after the latter's parent company, Leisurenet, had been placed in liquidation in October 2000[3] for 319.6 million South African Rand (approximately £24.5m as at November 2011).[4] The South African company also runs Virgin Life Care.

In 2002, by which point the company had 350,000 members, Branson sold 55 percent of the company to Bridgepoint Capital for £40 million.[2] In 2005, Branson bought out Bridgepoint's stake in the business for £134.5 million.[5]

It subsequently expanded its operations in 2004 to Italy.[6] By 2005 the company had 25 clubs in the UK, 77 clubs in South Africa and 12 clubs in Continental Europe.[5] It opened its first Australian club in Sydney in late 2008,[7] with further clubs launch in Singapore and Thailand in 2014.

On 1 November 2006 it took over the UK-based operation of the more prestigious Holmes Place chain, thus increasing its UK chain of clubs from 24 to 72 overnight.[8] On 26 April 2011 it announced the takeover of UK gym operator Esporta's 55 clubs increasing the UK business to 124 clubs.[9]

The current Group CEO is founder Matthew Bucknall. In 2014 Virgin Active launched a new low-cost gym called Virgin Active RED. The RED gyms focuses on first timers who may be intimidated by training by strategically placing exercise equipment in different stages around the gym and further having touch screen computers and other technologies placed in these predefined area's teaching the user how to do the exercise correctly. The Global Managing Director of Virgin Active RED is Bernardo de Vicente.

On 16 April 2015, it was reported that Virgin Group and their private equity backers had sold 80% of Virgin Active to the South African investment firm Brait, owned by the billionaire Christo Wiese. The sale price was £682 million for an 80% stake, valuing the business at £1.3 billion, including debt, and the transaction was completed in July 2015. The company will continue to operate under the Virgin Active brand.[10]

In 2016 they began the sale of 35 clubs to Nuffield health

In 2017 they completed a sale of 15 clubs to David Lloyd


In December 2015, the South African Competition Tribunal announced that it is investigating Virgin Active's South African operations and the Discovery Group for contravening the Competition Act. The investigation is ongoing.[11]

Accidents and DeathsEdit

In March 2003, 32 year old City banker Katarzyna Woja stepped out of the lift at the Virgin Active (then Holmes Place) Broadgate Health Club in central London, when its cable snapped and the hydraulic cabin plunged downwards. Woja became trapped between the cabin's mantel and the lift shaft and was dragged downwards, suffering horrific injuries. She died soon after. Although she was with seven other people in the lift, she was the only one injured in the accident, as she was the last one to step out of the lift. Following a lengthy investigation by health and safety experts Holmes Place (bought by Virgin Active) was charged with six breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act while the lift manufacturer ThyssenKrupp was charged with four breaches.[12]

In December 2011 Virgin's flag ship club in High Street Kensington was accused of covering up the death of model and city worker Elsa Carneau, who drowned in the swimming pool at the west London club. A fire crew and paramedics tried to revive the Imperial College graduate for almost an hour before she was taken to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Westminster coroner’s court heard that staff at the club administered CPR incorrectly and falsified paperwork relating to CCTV checks to pretend that they had been monitoring the pool in a “distasteful” attempt to cover their tracks. Firemen also described how a man, who said he was a member of staff, had stood by filming efforts to resuscitate Carneau on his mobile telephone. Pierre Carneau, the victim's father criticised Virgin active for not apologising for the accident. He stated "It was an accident waiting to happen. If things had been done properly, I think there’s a chance our daughter may still be alive.” Virgin Active admitted health and safety breaches and was fined £100,000 at Southwark Crown Court in December 2013. An investigation found “serious shortcomings in the management of risks connected with swimming activity at the club” going back to 2009.[13][14][15][16]

In April 2014, three gym goers were injured when a suspended ceiling collapsed on to a line of rowing machines at the Virgin Active on Chiswick High Road, in West London.[17]


  1. ^ "Branson set to pump £110m from health clubs sale into." The Independent. London. 25 February 2002. Retrieved 28 November 2011. The group, which started Virgin Active in 1998, said it would pump the proceeds into developing Virgin Mobile,
  2. ^ a b Reece, Damian (24 February 2002). "Branson sells health stake to buy new island". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
  3. ^ Mathews, Charlotte (24 April 2002). "South Africa: Legal Bills Mounting in Leisurenet Probe". BusinessDay. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
  4. ^ Maphologela, Kgamanyane (18 December 2000). "South Africa: Future Of Health And Racquet Club Staff Still In Doubt". Business Day. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  5. ^ a b "Bridgepoint sells its stake in Virgin Active back to Virgin for £134.5m". AltAssets. 5 October 2005. Archived from the original on 19 November 2011. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
  6. ^ Walsh, Dominic (May 11, 2009). "Virgin Active seeks to grow la dolce vita". London: The Times. Archived from the original on 14 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-29.
  7. ^ Hammond, Michelle (18 July 2011). "Branson's Virgin Active flags Aussie expansion". StartupSmart. Archived from the original on 3 September 2011. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
  8. ^ Fildes, Nic (4 September 2006). "Virgin Active merges with Holmes Place". London: Retrieved 4 September 2006.
  9. ^ "Virgin Active buys rival Esporta". Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  10. ^ Kollewe, Julia (16 April 2015). "Virgin Active stake sold to South Africa's Brait for £682m". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  11. ^ "Van Rensburg, Dewald (8 December 2015). Discovery accused of quashing Virgin, Planet Fitness rivals". City Press. Retrieved 2016-07-03.
  12. ^ "Health club prosecuted over lift death". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2017-03-21.
  13. ^ "Branson's Virgin Gyms criticised after model drowns in pool". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2016-09-16.
  14. ^ "Virgin have never said sorry, says father of former model who drowned at health club". The Standard. Retrieved 2016-09-16.
  15. ^ "Gym worker took video of drowning swimmer". The Times. Retrieved 2016-09-16.
  16. ^ "Richard Branson's flagship Virgin Active club criticised by coroner after pool death of former model". The Mirror. Retrieved 2016-09-16.
  17. ^ "Three injured after ceiling collapses at Virgin Active gym in west London". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2017-03-21.