- Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once refused to share a flight to the US with a panda.
- The story from 1981 was revealed in the National Archives.
LONDON – Margaret Thatcher once refused to share a flight to the United States with a panda, telling colleagues that “pandas and politicians are not happy omens.”
The former prime minister had been encouraged in 1981 by UK government colleagues to take one of London Zoo’s slow-moving bears with her on a Concorde flight to Washington, the National Archives have revealed.
The zoo had agreed to help an American counterpart by sending one of its male bears across the Atlantic to mate with a female in “demonstration of the special relationship” between the UK and the US.
Lord Zuckerman, the zoo’s then-president, “even suggested that the prime minister might like to take the panda in the back of her Concorde when she goes to Washington next month.”
However, the former Conservative PM rebuffed the opportunity, writing in a note:
“I am not [double underlined] taking a panda with me. Pandas and politicians are not happy omens! Lord Z knows more about pandas than I do. I am sure he can arrange these things.”
Thatcher’s ambivalence towards pandas continued during her 11-year reign as prime minister. In 1982, she reluctantly said she’d allow a new female panda to be sent to London Zoo if offered to the UK by another nation.
“London Zoo would clearly like to have a fertile female and, in due course, a baby Panda. I think that Lord Zuckerman hopes that, if the prime minister were to be offered a female giant panda for the British people she might feel able to accept it,” then-Cabinet Secretary Robert Armstrong wrote to her.
An official added: “Prime minister. A bit passé, but no doubt you would not look a gift horse, or even a panda in the mouth?”
Thatcher replied: “Yes, I would. The history of pandas … is unlucky.”