I HAVE never understood what people see in Richard Branson. His trains are serial offenders against civilised transport, his airline is nothing special and, contrary to his image as the great tycoon, most of his other businesses are distinctly bonsai affairs.
Now, having wreaked so much damage elsewhere in our public realm, the deadliest beard since Lenin is swivelling in our direction. From next year, Virgin replaces Flora as the sponsor of the London Marathon - which, of course, starts in Greenwich Park, passes through Greenwich town centre and spends more than seven of its 26 miles in the borough.
But in my paper, the Standard, yesterday, Sir Richard is quoted as saying he wants to "come up with a better route" because the current one is not "glamorous" enough. It passes, he says, too many dull places in east and south-east London and not enough tourist attractions.
It is stunning how much of what we've come to think of as the essence of Greenwich is, all of a sudden, under threat. The Marathon now joins the Market, the Village Market, the park, the Cutty Sark and the foot tunnel on the danger list.
For as our 40-watt council presses blindly on with its plans for a one-off sporting event actively wanted by almost no-one, the Olympic horseriding in the Park, councillors appear to have been completely oblivious to this very real threat to a much more important and genuinely loved Greenwich sports occasion.
The contrast between the stage-managed North Korean spend-fest that is the Olympics and the Marathon could not be greater. The Marathon is democratic: it is the people dressed as bananas we care about, not the manufactured elite athletes at the front. On the morning of the race, you can go into the park and mix freely with the competitors - best of luck if you want to try that in 2012. The Marathon is free for everyone to watch. The Olympics won't be accessible to most Greenwich people even if they are rich enough to pay.
The Olympics are a giant edifice of lies. The Marathon makes no promises it cannot keep. The Olympics are costing £9.3 billion and could rip up our precious park. The Marathon manages to be one of the greatest sporting spectacles in the world without doing any damage to anything and without costing any taxpayer a single penny.
Now it is perfectly true that south-east London is not glamorous. That's why I like it, actually. We are protected from fashionability by that impenetrable mountain range of council estates along the Old Kent Road. Madonna and Guy will never be spotted shopping in Somerfield, thank God.
But South Londoners, black and white, embody the real essence of our great city, rather than the rootless cosmopolitanism of the north. We are contrary. We will never be told what to think by Vogue or The Guardian. North London had New Labour; South London had the peasants' revolt. Turn up the volume on Heart 106.2!
That is precisely why the Marathon, the ultimate people's sport, should keep on running through the people's streets. The idea that the route is dull is a slander, too. As anyone except Branson must know, Greenwich is one of the prettiest places in London, the East End is just about the most happening part of town right now, and the Isle of Dogs has been transformed over the exact lifespan of the Marathon itself from vacant wasteland to Europe's premier financial powerhouse.
The Park, the Observatory, Charlton House, the Naval College, the Cutty Sark (restoration permitting), Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and Canary Wharf must count as tourist attractions, surely? Anyway, if East London is too dull to host a sports event, what does that say for the Olympics?
Beardie is threatening to run the Marathon himself next year, when it will still be more or less on its current course. May I suggest that the people of south-east London line the route and give him, as he passes, the benefit of their unglamorous views?