Virgin Active

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Virgin Active Limited
Industry Health club, gym
Founded Preston, Lancashire, United Kingdom (1998 (1998))
Founder Richard Branson
Headquarters Milton Keynes, England
Number of locations
275 total
96 (UK)
121 (South Africa)
30 (Italy)
11 (Spain)
4 (Portugal)
6 (Australia)
1 (Singapore)
3 (Thailand)
2 (Namibia)
1 (Botswana)
Area served
South Africa, Namibia, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Australia, UK, Singapore, Thailand
Owner Christo Wiese (80%)
Virgin Group (20%)
Slogan "Live happily ever active"

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


The company launched in 1998[1] in Preston, Lancashire[2] as part of Richard Branson's Virgin Group, headquartered in Milton Keynes. In 2013 the offices were move to Barbican in London leaving a small call centre in MK.

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 2015.

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 Paul Woolf, who succeeded founder Matthew Bucknall in late 2013.

In 2014 Virgin Active launched a new low-cost gym called Virgin Active RED in South Africa. 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.

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 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]


  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. 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. 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. 

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