Heidi Zherelyev, of Tempe, Arizona, has always been a prankster. So she just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a laugh out of Val Zherelyev before they wed on June 30.
For the couple’s first look — just before they said their “I dos” in a sweet ceremony at The Gathering Place — Heidi enlisted the help of her older brother, Eric Dodds, to slip into a wedding dress, stand in her place, and surprise her unsuspecting husband-to-be. Photos of the funny moment showed Val laughing with a shocked expression when he saw Dodds in the white, form-fitting gown and brown tennis shoes.
“I was totally convinced it was gonna be Heidi. As I turned around, it was just so unexpected. It took me about five or six seconds to process what was happening. It was just so funny,” Val, 26, tells PEOPLE. “I’ve known Eric almost 10 years … seeing him like that was totally out of his character. It was hilarious.”
Heidi says she and her friend Chelsea had been cooking up the prank for several months before the big day, intending for the joke to “break the ice and get rid of the wedding-day jitters.” Chelsea even lent her own wedding dress from her big day for the joke, and Dodds didn’t join in on the fun until the day of the ceremony, Heidi, 25, says.
“I sprung it on him last minute,” Heidi recalls. “He was a little apprehensive at first, but of course he obliged. Because he’s my big brother and he has to. Once he started putting on the dress, he transformed into the character of the bride.”
She adds: “He had fun with it. We were making jokes. He was putting on my deodorant and perfume so he’d smell more girly.”
In the silly shots, Eric is shown playfully touching the gown. And he and Val even posed for a wedding photo of their own.
“I’ve never seen him do anything remotely close to something like that,” Val tells PEOPLE. “Being a big brother, he kind of stepped up. I was anxious to see … and having that happen threw everything off the rails for a second. But then it put the cherry on top of the day.”
The photos quickly made their way around the interview, amassing thousands of “likes” on Facebook since they were first posted last week.
But Heidi says Dodds still doesn’t understand just how “famous” he is as a result of the viral photos.
“He’s in disbelief,” Heidi says of her brother. “He hasn’t even really seen how far this has spread. We tried to explain to him … girls are even asking who the guy in the dress is. He can’t believe that something so silly and normal for our family, that people think it’s so great.”
She adds: “He’s always been such a good older brother to me. This was just natural of him to help his little sister out and make her wedding day the best that he possibly could and do his part, as silly as it may have been..”
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