Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin Group is well-known for his elaborate pranks and publicity stunts, but this one may go down as one of his best.
It is April 1, 1989. Under the cover of darkness, Richard Branson took off in a custom hot air balloon shaped like a UFO. It was 4am and the strobe lights on board were blinking every ten seconds.
As the sun began to rise the UFO was making its way over London’s M25 highway. Drivers on their morning commute were stunned. Cars pulled over, police forces mobilized and the army was alerted. TV and radio stations were being flooded with reports of an Unidentified Flying Object…
The original plan was to land in Hyde Park but poor weather conditions blew him off target. Branson was forced to land in Surrey Field instead, as police forces followed in hot pursuit.
As the UFO prepared for landing the police surrounded the field and sent a lone officer to approach the strange aircraft. Branson had one more trick up his sleeve…
As the UFO door opened dry ice billowed out. It was then that a dwarf—also on board—emerged down the platform in an ET costume.
Unamused, the officers initially threatened arrest, eventually deciding against any formal action.
Pictured above you can see Branson wearing the ET mask the dwarf came out in.
The UFO was built in Bristol by Don Cameron of Cameron Balloons Limited. Codenamed “Project Wedgewood”, only a handful of people knew about the stunt which is what made it such a huge success.