April Fools’ Day

Richard Branson reading his ipad while having a cup of tea
Owen Buggy
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 31 March 2021

April Fools’ Day jokes have always been one of my favourite pastimes of the year, and for the past 50 years at Virgin we have had a lot of fun making people smile. 

It’s always been a chance to have a bit of fun, but with the continued rise in fake news, I can’t help but wonder if 2021 makes it a difficult time for amusing April Fools’ Day jokes.

As GQ eloquently put it back in 2019, we live in an age now that is impossible to parody: “There are no jokes, pranks or japes that could possibly be more ridiculous than our present day goings on and stories that were once the stuff of practical jokes are now spread as sincere by online provocateurs.”

The pandemic has given even more weight to this sentiment. There are so many unknowns and uncertainty can breed speculation, fear and mistrust – and unfortunately misinformation tends to spread quicker online than the truth. Online scams have also become worryingly commonplace. You can watch our video on how to spot and report scammers.

Back before the internet, jokes were a little simpler to pull off. My most memorable April Fools’ Day joke was back in 1989 when we flew a UFO over London. 

By the time we’d reached the motorway it was beginning to get light. We could see every single vehicle grinding to a halt and hundreds of people looking up at the UFO flying over them.

It was great fun watching their reactions. What we didn’t know was three police forces had been mobilised, the army had been alerted and radio and TV stations had all gone on the air about a UFO flying low over London! The police surrounded us and then sent one lone policeman with his truncheon across the field to greet the alien. The UFO’s door opened very slowly, with plenty of dry ice billowing from it. ET (ok, somebody in an ET costume!) walked down the platform towards the policeman. He quickly spun around and sprinted off back where he had come from!

Image from Chris Moss
Image from Chris Moss

To begin with, the police didn’t see the funny side of it and threatened to arrest us for wasting their time. Thankfully, they soon joined in the fun and left with smiles on their faces. We unearthed this photo recently, which reminded me that we even wrote Virgin Galactic Airways on the side of the UFO – years before the company became a real life commercial spaceline. It goes to show, out of every bit of fun, a great idea can emerge.

While April Fools’ Day may not be quite the same this year, I wanted to do something small to bring a smile to people’s faces. In the spirit of the day, here’s my April ‘Falls’.

In the last couple of months, Necker Island has been running 100% on renewable energy. I saw a great video of a woman doing a fitness routine and jumping over the shadow of a wind turbine and thought this is a fun, surprising new use for the turbines: fitness workouts. It’s harder than it looks! 

What do you think about April Fools’ Day – a chance for a bit of light-hearted humour, or has the moment passed?