How to: Give a Surprise Party

A good surprise party is a lot of work, most of which is planning. It should ultimately be fun for the person who's being surprised, yet not be too obvious. It should be fun for the people doing the surprising, but not so elaborate that it could go wrong. So here are some basic steps to follow.

Step one - Choose a reliable victim: You'll need someone who's going to show up on the day, or you and the rest of their friends will be the surprised ones.

Step two - set up a date with the victim: The date should prepare them for the surprise party, and ensure they're free for the rest of the evening. So if they're the flitty type, make sure another friend who's in on the planning organises another fake booking for later the same evening.

Step three - dressing for the occasion: If you need your victim formally dressed, tell them you're taking them to a fancy restaurant. If you need them dressed as a duck, get a duck suit and keep it at the party venue, so they can change when they arrive.

Step four: Send a suggestion for the party to a group of friends who'll help you. Keep it small, and make sure a couple of ringleaders are already on your side. Don't BCC them in emails. Sure, you'll end up with lots of long threads, but if everyone knows who's in the know, the chances of the secret slipping out are smaller.

Step five: delegate tasks like catering and music to others, so you can focus entirely on making sure that when people yell "surprise!" your friend is truly surprised.

On the night
Everything is NEARLY in the bag, so the plan is just to pull it off, then enjoy the whole thing. Here's what will make it easier to chill and party.

Take a taxi: Especially if you've got plans for your future. Or don't drink much. Up to you.

Park round the corner: Tell everyone else who's attending to do the same. Nothing gives it away like all your friends' cars in the street outside the venue. Or see: Take a taxi.

Tell everyone to be early: Whether you've chosen a restaurant as your venue, or invited everyone over to your place (some advice - a friend's place is better, otherwise you end up cleaning up) make sure they're there before the guest of honour arrives.

Post a watchman: Someone with a cell phone needs to keep an eye out for the guest's arrival and call to tell you where they are. Once you hear that, shut everyone up, turn out the lights, and wait...

Now relax: Boom! Your work is done! And your friend is probably pleased. In our recent survey, more than 80% of respondents said they would either be happy and touched, or ready to party if someone threw them a surprise jol. So soak up the glory, and whatever else your brain can take.

How was it for you?
Here's what colleagues, friends and celebs say about their experiences with surprise parties...

"A friend of mine organised a surprise birthday party for me at a club. Everything went well, except that I showed up in a ratty t-shirt and old jeans, and my friend, who organized everything, looked fabulous in my sparkly tank top! She was pretty much the center of attention all night. Whose party was this anyway?" - Ashlin Simpson, Soft Targets Editor

"I have only been to ‘surprise’ bachelorette parties, which the bride-to-be always knows about before hand – ‘pretend surprise parties’." - Annel Malan, Speakerbox Editor

"Justin was totally blown away when he walked in. He had no idea," said a source, commenting on a superbowl-themed surprise party girlfriend Jessica Biel threw for boyfriend Justin Timberlake recently.