Branson, Missouri, Reacts to Billionaire Branson's Prank

Richard Branson Missouri
Richard Branson is know for his April Fools’ jokes. But this time he’s upset Branson, Missouri. Shannon Stapleton/Files/Reuters

Sir Richard Branson's very, very distant American cousin wasn't clued into his latest April Fools' hoax.

The high-profile Forbes billionaire, Virgin founder, British knight and author of the best-seller Losing My Virginity is also known for his elaborate April 1 pranks. This year he announced via, Twitter and Virgin's "elevate" email newsletter that his company would be moving its U.S. headquarters to Branson, Missouri, in a campaign he dubbed #BransonToBranson. "My great-great-uncle, Reuben S. Branson, founded Branson and was the original all-American entrepreneur," he wrote on "As I have followed his lead as an adventurer and an entrepreneur, I now want to follow his footsteps into his hometown."

He outlined how parts of Virgin's music, film production, hotel and airline empire would relocate to the Show-Me state. Virgin Pure would triple-filter the water in Branson so that its namesake could "always be able to enjoy the perfect tasting cup of tea whenever I'm in town." Even his clothing line, Virgin Active, would introduce a new "Branson-themed workout that will have health club enthusiasts tossing hay bales and rolling wagon wheels across the gym."

Sir Richard claimed to have spoken to the local elite, most notably Mayor Raeanne Presley, whom he said was "wholeheartedly behind the move." ("Welcome Richard. Amazing things happen when you Believe!" she tweeted to the billionaire.) He also reported that Kevin Plank, the CEO of Under Armour, planned to paint his Branson store red in honor of the move.

Even the great Dolly Parton was allegedly in on the action. "To my delight," wrote the British entrepreneur, "I found that...the undisputed queen of country runs the wildly popular Dixie Stampede in Branson." Virgin America, he noted, would honor her by naming its newest plane Jolene, hosting Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede-themed flights and featuring a Dolly channel on its in-flight entertainment system (available only from 9 to 5).

Yesterday morning Jeffrey Bourk, executive director of Branson Airport, wrote on Facebook, "While we are obviously flattered that Richard Branson wants to fly his planes to ‪#‎Branson‬, ‪#‎MO‬Explore Branson, he might have to wait in line. I have my staff looking into gate availability, but it may be tough given Virgin's aggressive service rollout."

I asked Irving Garcia of the Branson Tourism Center what he made of all this. "It would a great way to bring in people," he said. Has there always been a running joke about Branson, Missouri, and Branson, sir? "No," he said. "Never before this Internet buzz." He told me that Reuben Branson was the community's first mailman, hence the name of the place. Could the two Bransons be related? "I doubt it. Reuben's roots are Ozarks, middle America and Missouri."

Not every Bransonian was on board with the campaign. "I think it was foolish of Mayor Presley to join in on the joke Richard Branson pulled," tweeted Laramie Lowe, a former Des Moines sports talk host currently in Branson. "This town has some of the poorest people in America." Another local, Christopher Blackwell, agreed. "Not a funny joke," he tweeted. "We need actual good jobs here. And some outside influence to make that happen."

One person Branson didn't get in touch with was Marjorie Branson, wife of the late Charles Branson, the last descendant of great-great-uncle Reuben still living in town. She said she's heard of Sir Richard but wasn't aware of his prank. "Don't know anything 'bout what you're asking," she said. "Don't know everything about the family tree, you see."

Apparently, Branson (the man) isn't aware of some of the biggest tourist attractions in Branson (the town): the World's Largest Toy Museum, the interactive Titanic Museum and the Silver Dollar City theme park, which opened in 1960. That last one still gets locals riled up. A highlighted comment about Branson on reads: "Offended when I hear people call this place 'Steal Your Dollar City!'"