Richard Branson’s long, storied history of outrageous April Fool pranks

A perfect fit for Virgin USA’s new headquarters.
A perfect fit for Virgin USA’s new headquarters.
Image: Reuters/Dave Kaup
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Today Richard Branson announced that Virgin USA, and part of Virgin UK, would be relocating to the kitschy town of Branson, Missouri (population approximately 11,000). The move, the knighted English billionaire wrote on Virgin’s website, was inspired by his recent discovery that a long-lost relative founded the city. Quoth Branson: “My great-great-uncle, Reuben S. Branson, founded Branson and was the original all-American entrepreneur. As I have followed his lead as an adventure and an entrepreneur, I now want to follow his footsteps into his hometown.”

The initiative, Branson wrote, will involve the following:

  • flight service between Branson and San Francisco
  • a new Virgin Hotel in the city
  • a Virgin luxury property offering wagon trails
  • a Virgin-produced movie filmed in Branson
  • Virgin holiday packages to the city
  • a Branson-themed workout at Virgin’s gym chain featuring hay-bale tossing and wagon-wheel rolling
  • an upgrade to Branson’s water supply, which will henceforth be ”triple-filtered and purified to make it healthy for all—so I will always be able to enjoy the perfect tasting cup of tea whenever I’m in town.”

If this all sounds too cheeky to be true, that’s because it probably is. The announcement, on the eve of April Fool’s Day, comes after a long line of other Branson-related April 1 hoaxes. Among his deviously playful exploits:

1989: A UFO lands near London

The then 36-year-old chairman of Virgin Records arranged for a hot-air balloon masquerading as a flying saucer to land in a field in Surrey, outside London. An alien in a space outfit exited the UFO, who turned out to be a midget.

2004: A mobile phone for lefties

Tech sites lapped up Virgin Mobile’s announcement that it was coming out with a Sony Ericsson mobile phone with a redesigned keypad to make its navigation easier for lefties.

2006: Animal-only gyms

Branson’s health club company, Virgin Active, teamed up with a PR agency to weave a tall tale about the launch of an animal-only gym, designed especially for animals in need of “lifestyle management.”

2010: Ferrets lay underground cable

Virgin Media said it had employed the help of trained ferrets to lay cables to expand the reach of rural broadband. The company told The Telegraph: “For hundreds of years, ferrets have helped humans in various jobs. Our decision to use them is due to their strong nesting instinct, their long, lean build and inquisitive nature, and for their ability to get down holes.”

2011: Branson buys Pluto

Branson claimed he bought Pluto to have it reinstated it as a planet, after it was officially downgraded to a dwarf planet in 2006. The company said on its website:”As a firm supporter of small businesses Sir Richard is hoping to set an example for struggling entrepreneurs facing setbacks by having Pluto reinstated as an official planet.”

2012: Trips into active volcanos

Virgin, Branson announced, had invented a vehicle that would allow humans to explore first-hand the innards of the most active volcanoes. Actor Tom Hanks, musician, actor Seth Green, and filmmaker Barbara Kopple would be joining him on the first mission.

2013: Glass-bottomed planes

On Virgin Atlantic’s blog, the company said it had been secretly working on a glass-bottomed plane to give its passengers “an unparalleled flying experience, as well as a selection of stunning landscapes from the comfort of their seats.” At least one media outlet took the bait.