Richard Branson out of charity swim

Richard Branson has had to pull out of a gruelling charity swim across the Irish Sea after a fire destroyed his luxury Caribbean home.

Richard Branson has had to pull out of a gruelling charity swim across the Irish Sea after a fire destroyed his luxury Caribbean home.

Ronan Keating, former Atomic Kitten singer Jenny Frost, Strictly star Pamela Stephenson, gadget guru Jason Bradbury and Olympic medal-winning swimmer Steve Parry, will still brave the treacherous currents, ferries and even sharks to complete the relay to raise £1m for Cancer Research UK.

The challenge will see them set off on Wednesday to swim 56 nautical miles (65 land miles) from Holyhead, in Anglesey, North Wales, to Dublin, Ireland.

The team, joined by two experienced “super swimmers” and two members of the public, are expected to take up to 40 hours to complete the challenge.

As well as swimming long hours through the night, they will also have to dodge wind farms and cope with tidal variations which mean the swimmers could end up covering a distance of up to 70 nautical miles (81 land miles).

At least 30 species of shark are known to pass through the Irish Sea, including the enormous basking shark, the world’s second largest fish.

The world’s largest species of jellyfish, the lion’s mane, is also often spotted in the waters.

Virgin boss Sir Richard, 61, watched in horror last week as his Necker Island paradise home went up in flames.

British actress Kate Winslet was among 20 people who fled The Great House on the island as it was razed to the ground on Monday.

His daughter Holly Branson and her shipbroker fiance Freddie Andrews were planning to get married on the island in December and despite the fire the businessman has insisted the event will still go ahead.

Last night Frances Milner, director of supporter-led fundraising at Cancer Research UK: “Sadly Richard Branson has had to withdraw from Cancer Research UK’s first celebrity challenge, The Samsung Galaxy S II Swim.

“We’re disappointed but understand that he needs to be with his family after fire devastated their home. He has kindly offered to dedicate a future record-breaking challenge to Cancer Research UK.”

Boyzone star Keating, 34, injured his hamstring during training for the swim but said he cannot wait to dip his toes in the water.

“I’m not a strong swimmer, but the motivation to learn and raise money for Cancer Research UK was enough for me to sign up,” he said.

“The public’s support is going to be essential in helping us achieve our goal of raising £1 million for Cancer Research UK’s life-saving work.”

Parry, 34, was diagnosed with testicular cancer 18 months ago, just three weeks after getting married.

He said: “I’m so lucky that I was diagnosed at the early stages of testicular cancer.

“If I hadn’t checked it out, I may not be here today.

“My father is also a cancer survivor, and sadly my sister-in-law passed away from cancer in her early 30s.

“Cancer Research UK is a charity that is close to my heart.”

Two members of the public joining the celebrity team were picked from a host of people who signed themselves up for swimming trials in Brighton in August.

Primary school teacher Olly White, 33, from Exmouth, Devon, and student Nikki Fraser, 18, from Penistone, near Barnsley, South Yorkshire, are both keen open water swimmers.

Ms Fraser volunteered for the fundraising effort after her grandfather was treated for his second bout of cancer.

She said: “He’s 84 and doing really well so he’s living proof that research into better treatment is helping to save lives.”

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