In 1910, Virginia Woolf was the sole woman in a group of pranksters who decided to disguise themselves as the Prince of Abyssinia and his entourage. The elaborate practical joke involved faking an official telegram to the Royal Navy announcing that the Prince was in England and wanted to see the Navy’s flagship vehicle – the Dreadnought.
The group of friends, who posed for photographs in a London studio before setting off, wore dark skin make-up, long robes, turbans and false beards, all of which fooled the Navy, and they were shown around the battleship with great ceremony. The following day, the story appeared in the pressed, leaked by one of the group, Horace Cole. Journalists were enthralled, especially by the idea that a woman in a false beard had fooled the Dreadnought’s Commander -in-chief, and Woolf and her friends were besieged with pleas for interviews.
Moustaches, Whiskers & Beards by Lucinda Hawksley, National Portrait Gallery