The Time Winston Churchill Went Skinny-Dipping With a Shark

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images / AFP/Getty Images

In the winter of 1941-42, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill embarked on a diplomatic mission to North America, which included a widely-acclaimed address given to the U.S. Congress on December 26. But as Churchill’s lengthy visit wore on, he grew understandably exhausted and decided a break was in order. Looking to get away from it all, the “British Bulldog” flew down to a private villa in Palm Beach, Florida that January for a brief vacation, during which a very strange incident occurred.

Shortly after his arrival, Churchill chose to go for a swim in the Atlantic Ocean ... after adamantly refusing to put on a pair of swim trunks. According to one witness, he looked “like a huge, well-adjusted, and slightly over-bottled baby.” Though no civilians were in sight, longtime bodyguard Walter Thompson begged Churchill to reconsider, saying “You could be seen through [spyglasses], sir.” “If they are that much interested,” the Prime Minister replied, “it is their own fault what they see.” 

Suddenly, a large shark began lurking dangerously close to the world’s most powerful skinny-dipper, to the alarm of Churchill’s companions. “They said it was only a ground shark"—actually a very diverse group, only some species of which are dangerous to humans (for more info, head here)—"but I was not wholly reassured," he recalled years later. “It is as bad to be eaten by a ground shark as by any other. So I stayed in the shallows from then on.” 

The big fish eventually wandered off, at which point Churchill boasted, “My bulk has frightened him into deeper water!”

Years later, Parliament held a discussion about the development of artificial "shark repellents" (which sadly didn't involve Adam West's Batman). Possibly remembering his experience in Florida, Churchill declared, “You may rest assured that the British government is entirely opposed to sharks.”

Primary photo courtesy of Vintage Everyday.