Watch CBS News

Branson: Kate Winslet saved my mom in fire

Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson's $70 million home was struck by lightning and destroyed by the resulting fire Monday as Irene, then a tropical storm, barreled through the Caribbean and over his private island, the billionaire says.

And, reports CBS News Correspondent Elaine Quijano, Kate Winslet emerged a hero.

Branson says the Oscar-winning actress carried his mother from the house while it was still ablaze.

She was among 20 guests in the house, which is one of the most famous vacation homes in the world and was often rented by the rich and famous and seen in photos. Just last month, Nick Lachey and Vanessa Manillo were married there.

Pictures: Kate Winslet

"I was on the island," Branson told CBS News. "I was woken up with people screaming. I was in the house right next door to the Great House (about 10 yards away)and looked over, saw the whole house engulfed in flames, and just ran stark naked to the house to try to get people out. I had my daughter, my mother, lots of nephews and nieces. ... Obviously, the first priority was to rescue everybody, and fortunately, everybody got rescued."

Branson said, "My mother's 90 years old and, in order -- although she can walk -- in order to speed the process up, (Winslet) picked my mother up and carried her, carried her out of the house, and so Kate helped rescue my mother."

His 29-year old daughter, Holly, was planning to tie the knot on Necker Island this winter.

Despite the destruction, Branson says, he still hopes to play host.

"We'll make sure that Necker Island is back and ready for her wedding, so we've got something to aim for at Christmas-time this year. ... Necker is our home ... and it will be a beautiful island again. We've just got to rebuild the Great House. Fortunately the rest of the island survived, and we'll make sure it was as beautiful as it was before."

Branson told CBS News that, while many photos were destroyed in the fire, as well as a second autobiography he was working on, the most important thing is that his family and friends are OK.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.