It’s a strange world. One minute, it’s business as usual at Oxford University’s Linacre College. It was named after Thomas Linacre (1460-1524), a physician and humanist who was personal doctor of Henry VIII. His pupils included Erasmus and Sir Thomas More.

The next time, it all changes.

This week, it was announced the name of ‘one the greenest colleges in Oxford’ that is carved in stone at the entrance of the college will be changed into Thao College. This is in honor of a Vietnamese billionaire who founded VietJet Air, a budget airline. She has been fined many times for using semi-naked stewardesses on her flights.

She recently offered Linacre £155 million, one of the largest donations ever to an Oxford college.

Nguyen Th Phuong Thao, also known as Madam Thao is a mother of two who has made a fortune in Vietnam.

Oxford University's Linacre College's name is to be changed to Thao College in honour of a Vietnamese billionaire who founded the budget airline VietJet Air

In honor of a Vietnamese billionaire, Oxford University’s Linacre College is to be renamed Thao College.

She is president and CEO of the Sovico Group. It has interests in offshore oil, fossil fuel financing, and gas exploration. VietJet Air was also known as Bikini Air due to Madam Thao’s love for the scantily-clad beauty in the aisles.

Sometimes they wear swimsuits. Other times, they wear red and yellow two-pieces with red lacy stockings. They can even be seen beaming in their swimsuits in the company calendar.

Madam Thao is completely at ease with all this.

She said that you have the right to wear whatever you like, the bikini or traditional ao dai. This refers to the modest Vietnamese long tunic worn over trousers. 

“We don’t mind people associating an airline with the bikini-image. If that makes people feel happy, then we are happy.

The in-air swimwear policy has energized passengers and helped turn VietJet, a start-up, into a competitor to the national airline in a mere ten years. However, it has also caused a stir among feminists and business commentators who can’t believe that this is happening in 21st century.

Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao (pictured), known as Madam Thao, is a mother of two with a self-made Vietnamese fortune

Nguyen Thi Th Phuong Thao (pictured), also known as Madam Thao is a mother to two with a selfmade Vietnamese fortune

Sir Richard Branson wouldn’t have dared to do that back then, I don’t think.

Lord only knows what Linacre College’s 555 postgraduate students will think of it. This is a university with ‘cancel culture’ and where Magdalen College students voted this summer for a removal of a portrait of Queen Elizabeth from their common area because of her links to colonialisation. Are they going to embrace Bikini Airlines or not?

But who is this tiny (5ft tall) self-made tycoon, who manages parenthood and top-flight business while being exquisitely presented and doesn’t care about seminudity?

Nguyen Thi Th Phuong Thao was born in 1970 to a teacher, and a pharmacist in Hanoi. 

She says she was blessed with a happy, calm, close-knit childhood. This gave her the skills she needed to live a fulfilling life: ‘To feel a sense sacrifice and care, be meticulous, graceful, generous, and give without asking.

After moving to Moscow to pursue a degree in finance at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics (Russia), she began trading in fax machines and latex rubber.

Although she didn’t have much money, her idea was simple. She was a trade distributor and received clothing, office equipment, and consumer goods on credit from South Korea, Hong Kong, and Japan. Then she sold them to customers who were desperate for Western goods prior to the collapse of Soviet Union.

She said, “I earned the trust and respect of the suppliers by being honest with them.” “They gave me more products with longer credit terms. She was 21 when she made her first million.

After receiving a master’s degree in economic management at another Russian university, she returned home to Vietnam and got involved in private banking and property. 

She recently offered Linacre College (pictured) £155 million, one of the largest donations ever to an Oxford college

She recently offered Linacre College (pictured) £155 million, one of the largest donations ever to an Oxford college

And when her eldest son, Tommy — who went on to study at Oxford University — was just a baby, she spotted another gap in the market: for budget air travel for Vietnam’s increasingly mobile middle class.

After years of intensive research, she launched Vietnam’s first low-cost private airline in 2007. She became South-East Asia’s only female billionaire a decade later. 

VietJet today carries more passengers annually than Vietnam Air. Thao is known for her extraordinary work ethic. She is often up at 5am and then back at work until 2am. Her husband, Nguyen Thanh Hùng, is also a successful businessman.

She attributes her success and perseverance to being a female because “women have the virtues of sacrifice, patience, resilience to overcome difficulties, and achieve satisfaction from living.”

Forbes magazine has included her on its list of 100 most powerful women for years. Earlier this year her net worth was estimated at $2.1 billion (£1.53 billion).

But she is not afraid to take risks and is adept at making money from publicity.

Five flight attendants surprised everyone by dancing in bikinis mid-flight on the inaugural flight from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to Nha Trang, the holiday resort. The airline was slapped with a hefty fine — and sales shot up.

And that was in 2018, when Vietnam’s Under 23 men’s football team returned from a thrashing in Uzbekistan at an event in China. They were also the beneficiaries of an improvised, and allegedly quite interactive, performance by VietJet Stewardesses.

While Madam Thao is bold in business, she is soft spoken and chats happily with all staff. She prefers to be called’sister” to ‘Madam. She is unfailingly friendly and leads a low-key, happy life.

VietJet Air is also known as Bikini Airlines thanks to Madam Thao's enthusiasm for scantily clad beauties in the aisles. They even pop up beaming in their swimmers in the company calendar

VietJet Air is also known by Bikini Airlines because of Madam Thao’s passion for sexy beauties in the aisles. They can be seen in their swimsuits on the company calendar.

So why is she doing it?

“What is a lot money for?” In a recent interview, she stated that a lot of money is used to help people. She stated, “Much of the money is used to help people and realize big dreams.”

She has. She has done so in spades.

Under her leadership, Sovico Group was made an official partner to UNESCO and the United Nations. She has received many awards for her philanthropy, and the French government awarded the Legion of Honour to her this year.

We are now back at Linacre College. The university’s old guard has been rumblings about tradition, and the usurping of one of the ‘great scholars his time’.

Students have raised further concerns about Madam Thao’s eco-credentials, and, of course those bikini-dancing girls.

Both parties have asked why she wasn’t listed in a college library, or in a sports hall.

What an inconsiderate gesture. Let’s just pray they pause, acknowledge how much they all can benefit, and pray that the university’s woke brigade isn’t too right to embrace their very modern fairy Godmother.