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Striking April Fool's gold

By Kerry McKittrick

Planning a wind-up tomorrow? Here's a few pranks to get the fun started.

It's worth taking a little extra care tomorrow - check chairs before you sit down, be wary of unusual phone messages, and if something seems a little too good to be true, then it probably is.

April Fool's Day is almost here again and -- until midday at least -- anyone is fair game. Pranks and tricks will be pulled all over the world.

The tradition of prank-pulling goes back to Roman times, when they celebrated the Feast of Fools in December and the Hilaria Festival in May. Chaucer even made reference to April 1 in The Nun's Priest's Tale.

In the UK, April Fool's Day gags are as popular as ever and nowhere more so than in the media.

One of the most famous pranks was in 1957 by the BBC, when the Corporation screened a very real-looking report about Swiss farmers harvesting spaghetti trees -- thousands were fooled.

Newspapers often print April Fool's stories and the Belfast Telegraph has been no exception over the years, with articles published of the old gasworks pipes being used to transport beer to Belfast pubs, of Tennents Lager being launched into space and a spoof story about a new soap made from the froth left over from brewing the beer.

As the day itself dawns, we spoke to three local celebrities about their own funny experiences of April Fool's Day.

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Kirstie McMurray (40) is the co-host of the Downtown Radio Breakfast show. She lives in Bangor with her fiance Andy Brisbane and her children Katie (13) and Connor (15). She says:

We pulled a great prank on-air three years ago, when I worked on the Cool FM breakfast show with Pete Snodden. We were a bit under pressure to do something that would work on April Fool's Day, although we've done silly little things before, of course. We thought people wouldn't buy into this one because it was so absurd.

Pete came up with the idea a couple of days before the show, that I should 'marry' my fiance Andy live on the show.

We were all in on it. Pete said on-air that he had got a licence to perform the ceremony and we were doing something big after 8am.

The idea was that this 'wedding' would be the first to be done over the airwaves. I was in the studio in a white dress and flowers, but Andy wasn't even in the room -- he was doing deliveries for work and pulled up by the roadside to have the ceremony over the phone. If that wasn't a clue, then I don't know what was. There were so many people watching over the webcam that our IT department thought it had crashed. So I said 'I do' with Andy over the phone and went through the whole thing -- and even though we had stated that Andy was in the van and not in the studio, people didn't realise. I had warned my mum about it but Pete obviously hadn't told his and I got a lovely phone call from her after the show congratulating me!

We kept broadcasting that it was a prank for the rest of the day and all through the weekend, but some people still didn't catch on. We were at a big awards do over the weekend and people were still congratulating us! The worst thing about it was that I felt really down for the rest of the day after the wedding -- I felt it was a shame that we weren't actually married. We still haven't got round to it -- if only it was that easy!

I don't think we've done anything quite so elaborate since. We have to be quite careful on April Fool's Day anyway

We go through the papers each day for discussion topics for the show and you don't want to be caught out with one of their 'fake' stories."

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Leesa Harker (36) is the writer of hit play, Fifty Shades of Red, White and Blue. She lives in Belfast with her daughters Lola (6) and Lexi (3). She says:

For years I would phone up my mum on April Fool's Day and tell her I was pregnant. I would keep her going until she thought I was really pregnant.

"It went on for so long that I can't even remember when it started.

The funny thing was, when I finally was pregnant, mum didn't believe me.

"My sister Samantha had just announced she was expecting the week before.

"Mum came over and when I told her she said 'Aye, right', because Samantha had just told us and mum didn't believe that we could be pregnant so close together -- there are only 20 days between our first-borns.

Although I'm not so bad now, I've always been a terrible prankster and would look up people in the Yellow Pages whose names were Tom, then phone and ask where Dick and Harry there.

I would even steal people's phones and text their bosses and friends, I was terrible.

"I might have something planned for tomorrow, although I think if I told my mum I was pregnant now it would finish her off!"

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William Caulfield (55) is a comedian and lives in Bangor. He has two children, Grace (26) and Mark (24). He says:

April Fool's Day was usually when my father or my older brother always did one on me -- I never managed to do it on anyone else.

Their pranks would be something very simple, such as my brother telling me he'd been to the shop and had bought me a packet of crisps.

I would go and look for them and all of a sudden all I would hear was, 'April Fool!' behind me.

I didn't like the fact that they stood and laughed at me, which is strangely enough what I've made a career out of as I got older -- it's exactly what I want people to do.

I've been lucky enough to remember sometimes that April Fool's Day is over at noon, so if they did it to me after that then they would be the April Fool.

"Other than that though, I always fell for it!"

Famous pranks that worked a treat

  • In 1974 a volcano in Alaska that had lain dormant for 9,000 years started to smoke. As townspeople grew concerned, it was revealed that hidden in the crater of the volcano were hundreds of tyres that had been set alight, along with 50-foot letters proclaiming 'April Fool' painted on the side. It turned out to be an elaborate prank by local man Oliver Bickar, who had spent four years waiting for perfect weather conditions for the stunt.
  • In 1989 police received dozens of calls reporting sightings of UFOs. It was in fact playboy billionaire Richard Branson in a hot air balloon designed to look like a spaceship.
  • The BBC struck in 2008 when they announced a new documentary of a species of flying penguins. They even included a video clip of the penguins taking to the air, migrating to sunnier climes. It was, of course, fake.
  • In Sydney in 1978 local businessman Dick Smith announced he would be towing an iceberg from Antarctica to sell fresh water ice cubes from. The 'berg' appeared in Sydney harbour on April 1 and many were fooled ... until it started to rain. Then the foam and shaving cream concoction in the middle of the harbour started to dissolve.
  • Virgin Cola pranked rivals Pepsi spectacularly in 1996. The company announced special new technology for drinks cans which would turn the can blue when it went out of date, and that all such cans should be avoided. This was something of a blow for Pepsi, who had just recently revealed their new blue cans.

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