By Belinda Goldsmith
LONDON (Reuters) - Billionaire businessman Richard Branson said on Thursday his decision to quit Britain to live on his private Caribbean island was not to dodge paying UK tax but to give him a healthier lifestyle as he approaches 65.
The Virgin Group founder came under fire this month after it emerged he was living full-time on Necker in the British Virgin Islands, which he bought as an uninhabited island in 1979.
Being a resident there means he can avoid Britain's 50 percent income tax rate on high earners as well as capital gains tax, though it does limit the time he can spend each year in the UK.
"I did not go there for any other reason than that I love the place. After 45 years of working in the UK I am choosing to live on Necker," a tanned Branson in an open-necked shirt, jeans and black leather jacket told Reuters in an interview.
"When I am (on Necker) I can play tennis, I can kitesurf, I keep my body fit but I can also work hard and from there I travel off around the world," he said, adding that he had no plans to ever retire.
Branson, 63, in London to launch a scheme called Virgin Startup to help fund and mentor young British entrepreneurs, said most of his time was now spent on not-for-profit ventures.
But he said he was committed to encouraging aspiring entrepreneurs after he got his break as a 16-year-old when his mother lent him 300 pounds ($480) to set up Student magazine.
Branson, listed as Britain's sixth-richest resident this year by Forbes, said he was used to criticism, but his companies had always paid their tax bills and created thouands of jobs.
"You are always going to get criticism in life and you have to brush yourself down and do what you think is right and create products that make a difference to people's lives," he said.
(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; editing by Tom Pfeiffer)